Andy Ross 2018-08-20
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President Trump
Christian freedom fighter?

Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin

"When a thousand people
believe some made-up story
for a month − that's fake news.
When a billion people believe
it for a thousand years
− that's a religion."
Yuval Noah Harari

Borg Queen BORG

Fortress Europe


2018 August 20

European Immigration

Tony Barber

There is a refugee and migrant question in Europe. Measured by the numbers of migrants arriving this year, there is no crisis. Measured by the impact on European politics, there is a serious one.

This crisis shows in debates about national identity and the place of Islam in Europe. It generates support for radical rightwing parties, it undermines coalition governments, it paralyses efforts to reform the EU and strengthen its EZ core, and it harms the EU's reputation.

Just over 60,000 migrants and refugees crossed the Mediterranean into Europe this year up to last week. The EU's population is over half a billion. Yet 38% of EU citizens regard immigration as the most important issue facing the bloc, compared with 29% for terrorism.

Attitudes across the EU differ from nation to nation. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, and Slovakia, have the strongest feelings and the fewest asylum seekers. Politicians whip up anti-immigrant prejudice in Hungary and Poland especially, but also in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK.

In June, EU leaders discussed setting up centres for irregular arrivals in Europe and regional disembarkation arrangements for people rescued at sea. The leaders aired their ideas without agreeing which EU countries might construct such centres and without holding prior talks with north African governments.

Anti-immigrant demagoguery has become part and parcel of European politics.

AR Look out for my forthcoming paper on the subject.

2018 August 19

Climate Change

Johan Rockström

People will look back on 2018 as the year when climate reality hit. People are starting to realise that global warming is not a problem for future generations, but for us now.

Our hothouse paper came out at a time when temperatures in Germany reached 38 C. But this is just the beginning. Hothouse emissions are also killing the forests and oceans that might ease the impact.

The time to get up and leave your comfort zone is now.

AR Replace my car? What with?

Religious Freedom

The New York Times

The Trump administration has a political agenda that emphasizes the American strain of evangelical Christianity over other beliefs. It is also pursuing immigration and foreign aid policies that belie its stated defense of religious rights.

The administration took its advocacy of religious liberty to a new level with a conference headlined by VP Mike Pence. Evangelicals such as Pence are increasingly promoting religious freedom as "our first freedom" ahead of goals such as equal rights for workers and women.

The Trump administration needs to embrace a broader vision of human rights.

AR Promoting America the Christian nation invites a clash of civilizations.

Brexit: No Deal

The Atlantic

The forecast for a no-deal Brexit looks grim. Brexit secretary Dominic Raab says the government will ensure "adequate food supplies" and health secretary Matt Hancock confirms that the NHS will prepare to stockpile medicines.

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said leaving without a deal would be "a huge geostrategic mistake .. we would regret for generations" but then tweeted: "Britain WOULD survive and prosper without a deal .. We will only sign up to deal that respects referendum result."

AR Square the circle: hold a new referendum.

2018 August 18

One Field To Rule Them All

New Scientist

Florian Goertz dreams of solving five big problems in physics at once:

1 The strong CP problem is that the strong force should violate CP symmetry in some situations.
    A new field to counter the unseen symmetry violation would have a particle we call the axion.
2 The six quarks have hugely different masses but you might expect them to be similar. A flavon
    field introduces a symmetry broken by the quarks. The particle of the flavon field has a
    component that looks like an axion.
3 This union of axion and flavon — an "axiflavon" — could also be the yet unseen inflaton.
4 The axion is an alternative dark matter candidate.
5 The Higgs boson is lighter than we expected. Union with the axiflavon might explain this.

One new field might clean up all five problems.

2018 August 17

A Free Press

The New York Times

Thomas Jefferson, 1787: "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

Twenty years later, he felt differently: "Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle."

Criticizing the news media is entirely right. News reporters and editors are human, and make mistakes. But insisting that truths you dislike are fake news and calling journalists the enemy of the people are dangerous.


John Brennan

In 2016, Russian internal security service head Alexander Bortnikov told me Russia was not interfering in the US presidential election. I knew he was lying. I was well aware of Russia's ability to work surreptitiously within the United States.

James Comey and I talked about the potential for US citizens to be pawns in Russian hands. We knew that Russian intelligence services would do all they could to achieve their objectives. We pledged that our agencies would share any information we collected.

Donald Trump's claims of no collusion are hogwash. Trump is desperate to protect himself. He revoked my security clearance in an attempt to scare others into silence. Robert Mueller and his team must be allowed to complete their work.

2018 August 16


Alex Wagner

As Americans have left organized religion, they still view politics as a struggle between us and them. Many have come to define us and them in more primal and pugnacious ways.

This tribalism has infected white working class Americans. Culturally conservative white Americans who are disengaged from church experience less economic success and more family breakdown than those who remain connected.

Go to a Trump rally, speak to Trump supporters, and their devotion is nearly evangelical. Their declining economic position may have made bourgeois moral logic less attractive. The Church of Trump is a gathering place for castoffs with a worldview that has been a mark of shame.

Trump: "There is so much love in every room I go to .. We want our country to be great again, and we know it can be done!"


Richard Milne

The Sweden Democrats (SD) are an anti-immigration, populist rightwing party.

In Swedish elections on September 9, the SD are hoping for a political earthquake. Opinion polls give them over 20% of the vote. They look likely to become kingmakers and challengers to the centrist blocs that have ruled for decades.

The election results will be watched closely across Europe. Sweden has long prided itself on being open to immigrants and as offering a generous welfare state. The SD message is that welfare provisions are under threat from immigration.

A surge in SD support in 2016 and 2017 led to tighter rules on immigration. In 2018 the SD is becoming more popular. An early SD slogan was "Keep Sweden Swedish" but the party is more moderate than when it was founded in 1988.

Most of the election debate has been on immigration, integration, and crime.


Michael Binyon

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has antagonised his NATO partners. He supports Islamist movements and sent his forces into Syria to fight against US-backed forces. Last year he signed a missile deal with Moscow and is seeking closer ties to Russia and China.

The Trump administration has hardened its approach. The US Senate has refused to authorise Turkey's request to buy F-35 fighter aircraft. Trump is raising US tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum exports to America.

Erdogan reacted by accusing Trump of stabbing his strategic partner in the back. Last year, he accused Germany and the Netherlands of behaving like Nazis. He threatens to tear up his agreement with the EU on limiting the flow of migrants to Europe.

There is no appetite in NATO to see Turkey leave. The country became a member in 1952 and has the second largest army in the alliance. Turkey played a vital role in the Cold War and the Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey remains a key NATO base.

2018 August 15

Nearest Neighbor Problem Solved

Kevin Hartnett

Given a data set and a new data point, the nearest neighbor (NN) problem is to find which point in the data set is closest to the new point. A team of researchers has found new solutions.

The incommensurability of different distance metrics is a challenge. An NN algorithm that works for one metric fails for another. The standard approach is to partition your data recursively into subgroups until you have a partition that contains just two points: your new point and its NN.

Various algorithms exist for drawing these partitions. For low-dimensional data, Voronoi diagrams solve NN exactly. For higher-dimensional data, locality sensitive hashing (LSH) draws partitions randomly. LSH algorithms give approximate NN solutions for some distance metrics.

The team asked how NN algorithms relate to distance metrics. The distance between two points on a graph is the minimum number of lines you need to cross to get from one point to the other. An expander graph is well connected and you cannot do a fast NN search on expander graphs.

They asked if good NN algorithms were impossible for other distance metrics. They proved expander graphs do not embed into normed spaces and found fast NN algorithms for normed spaces.

2018 August 14


Fareed Zakaria

Steve Bannon says the Trump revolution was started by the financial crisis of 2008. A decade-on history of the crash of 1929 would have come in 1939. We still live in the aftermath of both.

By 2007, many saw warning signs of a crash. They pointed to US government deficits and debt or China, but not to a meltdown on Wall Street driven by toxic securitized subprime mortgages.

It was not just a US problem. The European and American financial systems were deeply intertwined. The enormous expansion of the global financial system had largely been a transatlantic project.

Bannon is right. The crash raised many issues — stagnant wages, widening inequality, anger about immigration, and distrust of elites and government — and supercharged them. The result we see.

No government handled the 2008 crisis better than that of the United States. Yet the backlash to the bailouts has hit hardest in the United States. The Trump presidency is the current crisis.

AR The 2008 crash was like Titanic hitting the iceberg. A few years later we think the world is recovering. But the catastrophe is taking time to unfold.


Andy Clark

Artificial intelligences outperform us at many tasks and can train themselves.
The controlled use of hallucinogenics may soon be part of mainstream therapy.
Sex and companionship robots are already here.
Entirely new forms of sensory perception are becoming possible.
The human genome is now an object of control and intervention.
Gender is becoming more visibly fluid than ever before.
One new tool will be immersive interactive virtual realities.
Cellphones and tablets are being used to help offset biological damage.
Sports for people with disabilities are expanding images of health and fitness.
Neuro-enhancement is possible and may soon become the norm.

To live in this kind of emerging world is to live in a world of remarkable personal and social possibility. Sharing and group solidarity are now easier than ever before. Human intelligence is poised for repair and reinvention, becoming fluid, as digital overlays augment reality with personalized pointers, in a world permeated by a growing swath of alien intelligences.

All this blurs the boundaries between body and machine, between mind and world, between standard reality, AR and VR, and between human and Borg. Inclusivities of one kind bump up against the threat of new forms of exclusivity.

We need to get used to the alien and pervasive reach of the subintelligences that now surround us. These are not yet intelligences like our own. But some of their great potential lies in how we work with them to become cyborgs.

We now glimpse the next steps in human cultural and cognitive evolution. We will find it hard to decide in a world of so many possible ways of being which ones are for us. We will need to update law and social policy.

AR Andy glosses the upside. The Borg collective will kill feral humans.

2018 August 13

Fortress Europe

Kenan Malik

Wherever you look in Europe, mainstream politicians are cracking down on migrants. At the start of migrant crisis, there was sympathy with the plight of the migrants and a willingness to help them practically. Much of that sympathy has ebbed away.

Chaos in the migrant camps is a deliberate message to other potential migrants. The harsher the conditions, the greater the deterrent for other refugees and migrants who seek a route into the EU. The issue has been framed to cast immigration as a symbol of unacceptable change.

Politicians recognise a need for immigration. They also promote the idea of immigration as a social problem that must be dealt with. Yet they often express disdain for those who express anxieties and fears about immigration, presenting them as bigots and racists. This poisonous mixture of necessity, fear, and contempt has helped both to stigmatise migrants and create public hostility toward the liberal elite for ignoring popular views.

Freedom of movement has spawned paranoia about the movement of people into the EU. The quid pro quo for Schengen has been the creation of a Fortress Europe, a citadel against immigration. Frontex, the EU border agency, uses the language of defending Europe against an enemy.

Fortress Europe is not only a physical barrier around the continent but an emotional one too. Migrants have come to be seen less as human beings than as so much flotsam and jetsam to be swept away from European beaches. EU immigration policy is seen as saving the continent from invasion.

AR Sounds like the EU is responding well.

Right On!

Steve Bannon

There is obviously a need for a more populist party in the UK. The party can be populist, nationalist, and want to thwart radical Islamic doctrine and Islamic supremacism without being anti-Muslim.

Tommy Robinson is not just a guy but a movement in and of himself now. He represents the working class and channels a lot of the frustration of everyday, blue-collar Britons. He is a force of nature, not built to be managed.

Boris Johnson understands the physics in the ebb and flow of events. Those individuals are rare. Boris admires Winston Churchill and wrote a compelling book about him. What he most admired was Churchill's courage and his "action this day" mentality. Boris has potential to be a great prime minister, not a good one.

Donald Trump understands the power to shape the modern world through mass communications. His power is that he gets the policy right and then he hammers the messaging. The power lies in that combination.

AR Boris and Trump — Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

US−Turkey Crisis

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

For the past six decades, Turkey and the United States have been strategic partners and NATO allies. Our two countries stood shoulder to shoulder against common challenges during the Cold War and in its aftermath. They fought together in Korea. In the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, we sent our troops to Afghanistan to help accomplish the NATO mission there.

Yet the United States has repeatedly and consistently failed to understand and respect the Turkish people's concerns. On July 15, 2016, Turkey came under attack by a group that tried to stage a coup and took the lives of 251 innocent people. The Turkish people expected the United States to condemn the attack. It did not: The US reaction was far from satisfactory.

My government has repeatedly shared our concerns with US officials about their decision to train and equip PKK allies in Syria. Unilateral actions against Turkey by the United States will only serve to undermine US interests and security. Washington must reverse this trend of unilateralism and disrespect, or we will start looking for new friends and allies.

AR To explain persistent US-UK misunderstanding of Turkey, see Lawrence of Arabia.

PSP launch

PSP launch, Cape Canaveral, Sunday

Doraemon, Hello Kitty

Boris Johnson The Times
Churchill, Trump, Bozo?

Analysis shows voters
in most constituencies
now favour remaining
in the EU

Cumrun Vafa Hayward Photography
Cumrun Vafa


No Deal Brexit
has nothing to offer but
blood, toil, tears
and sweat

Parker Solar Probe


2018 August 12


Pico Iyer

In the North Korean capital Pyongyang, one of our minders — there were 4 or 5 for the 14 of us, with a camera trained on our every move for what we were assured was a souvenir video — kept saying, "You think I'm a government spy, don't you?"

North Korea raises questions about what being human involves. The people around me clearly wept and bled and raged as I did, but they were not permitted to leave their hometown or say what they think. Many of us in the freer world now imprison ourselves behind screens, but for most of us this is a choice we can unmake tomorrow.

In Japan, the government has appointed Hello Kitty and Doraemon as cultural ambassadors. Lines between animate and inanimate run differently in an animist Shinto universe where every blade of grass or speck of dust is believed to have a spirit. Even the dead are treated as human in Japan.

The first time I visited North Korea, 24 years earlier, my guide showed me the skyscrapers and boulevards his government had created out of what 35 years before had been rubble, a demolished city. As my guide kept waving goodbye while I passed through immigration, I felt no one can deprive us of our humanity but ourselves.

AR In Japan 37 years ago, I too was minded much of the time — by friendly locals who were genuinely concerned for my welfare — for me a year of psychedelic joy.

BoJo: Way to No 10

Camilla Cavendish

Fear and loathing of Boris Johnson has hamstrung the parliamentary Conservative party since Brexit. No one is sure why he pulled back from seeking the leadership in 2016.

Conservatives used to view Boris as a winner. As mayor of multicultural London he was the man for all seasons and all tastes. He wanted an amnesty for illegal immigrants and was proud of his Turkish heritage.

Brexit changed everything. Boris took a long time to decide which side to back in the EU referendum, but since then he has become more extreme. The grassroots Conservative membership still like his style, but parliamentary Leavers and Remainers alike are sick of his constant manoeuvring.

Boris may fear that as we get closer to leaving the EU, his value diminishes. After Brexit, the party may be looking for a moderniser with a new face to push a radical domestic agenda. So Boris needs to move against the prime minister before March.

AR Let him do it, cause chaos, and force a new referendum.

Brexit: Ask the People

Vince Cable

Go back to the public and ask: "Is this what you really want, or do you want to stay in the EU and reform it from within?"

It is perfectly normal in countries that have a tradition of referendums to have confirmatory votes at the end. It is difficult when you have had a public vote for parliament to overturn it. I think there is a need to go back to the public, to have proper democratic legitimacy.

The public is moving in our direction. Polls in the last few days show a 10-point margin between those who favour a fresh vote as opposed to those against. The centre of gravity is moving.

AR Hard or soft, Brexit is bad shit.

2018 August 11

The Swampland Conjecture

Natalie Wolchover

Cumrun Vafa conjectures a formula dictating which kinds of universes can exist and which are forbidden in string theory. If it holds, the cosmos must either be profoundly different than previously supposed or string theory must be wrong.

String theory has a landscape of 10500 solutions. It predicts 10 dimensions, 6 of them compactified, and the landscape contains all possible compactifications. Gravitation tends to squeeze the compact dimensions, whereas other fields tend to push outward. In stable solutions, these effects balance via negative vacuum energy, producing anti-de Sitter (adS) universes.

Vafa's conjecture is that as the universe expands, the vacuum energy density must decrease faster than a certain rate. The rule appears to hold in all simple string model universes. But it contradicts both the presently accepted view of cosmic expansion and the theory of primordial inflation.

Vafa says universes with stable, constant, positive vacuum energy (de Sitter universes) are impossible. If he is right, they lie not in the landscape but in a swampland: "The things that look consistent but ultimately are not consistent, I call them swampland. They almost look like landscape; you can be fooled by them. You think you should be able to construct them, but you cannot."

The swampland conjecture predicts that in all possible universes the vacuum energy must either be falling or have a stable negative value, as in quintessence models. Telescope experiments are looking for evidence of cosmic deceleration.

2018 August 10

Love Trip

Galen Strawson

Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann took the first acid trip. Serious research on the clinical potential of LSD began in 1950. Hippies brought psychedelics into disrepute.

Aldous Huxley: "What came through the closed door was the realization — not the knowledge, for this wasn't verbal or abstract — but the direct, total awareness, from the inside, so to say, of Love as the primary and fundamental cosmic fact. The words, of course, have a kind of indecency and must necessarily ring false, seem like twaddle. But the fact remains. I was this fact; or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that this fact occupied the place where I had been."

A researcher in 1963: "My awareness was flooded with love, beauty, and peace beyond anything I ever had known or imagined to be possible."

There are thousands of such reports. If this is what psychedelic experience is like, or very often like, in good conditions, it certainly can't be assimilated to belief in the omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent (OOO) God of mainstream Christianity. That belief is morally obscene.

There seems to be a deeper psychological formation underneath the experience of love. The best name for it, perhaps, is Acceptance: profound acquiescence in how things are, acceptance of life, acceptance of death, and experience of great joy.

Acceptance seems tightly linked with dissolution of the sense of self, or at least of its importance. Neuroscientists scanning the tripping brain find dramatic reduction in the activity in the default mode network (DMN, a.k.a. "the me network"). Those who think the DMN is a suspect construct can think instead of activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, inferior parietal lobule, lateral temporal cortex, dorsal medial prefrontal cortex, and hippocampus.

Alison Gopnik: "Babies and children are basically tripping all the time."

Maturation renders the brain fit for purpose in a difficult world by imposing a mental filter. Psychedelic drugs remove the filter. A single dose can have lasting effects.

AR Acceptance — submission — Islam. Thank you, Galen.

2018 August 9


Ross Douthat

The years since 2008 have seen a steepening decline in the share of college students majoring in English, philosophy, religion, history, and similar pursuits. The sciences and engineering have gained at the expense of humanism.

This acceleration is no doubt partially driven by economic concerns. But as with childbearing, which had seemed to stabilize but now is in decline again, the decline of the humanities suggests that wider cultural shifts have left them ripe for collapse.

Many conservatives blame the humanists for being politicized and for pursuing postmodernist obscurantism. It may be more useful to step back and recognize both politicization and postmodern jargon as attempted solutions to a deeper problem.

In an Apollonian culture, eager for useful knowledge and technical mastery and increasingly indifferent to memory and allergic to tradition, the poet and the novelist and the theologian struggle to find an official justification for their arts. The turns toward radical politics and high theory are attempts by humanists in the academy to supply that justification.

Both attempts seem to have failed. What sustained their brief cultural moment:
A religious element that rooted humanism in its understanding of human life
A Communist rival that pushed the Apollonian model to an inhuman dead end
A sense of Western identity and tradition that escaped the grip of the now

This combination is not recoverable. A hopeful roadmap to humanist recovery:
A return of serious academic interest in the value of religious claims
A regained sense of history as a repository of wisdom and example
A cultural recoil from the tyranny of the digital and the virtual


Steven Nadler

Harold Cook: "Descartes' body was necessary only for carrying around his mind, which concentrated on the important work of thinking."

Descartes was a scientist. He believed that in order for disciplines like physics to achieve absolute certainty, they needed to be put on secure and indubitable foundations. His metaphysics of mind and body rendered the phenomena of nature amenable to strictly mechanistic explanations.

Descartes: "Philosophy is like a tree. The roots are metaphysics, the trunk is physics, and the branches emerging from the trunk are all the other sciences, which may be reduced to three principal ones, namely medicine, mechanics, and morals."

Descartes left Paris in 1629 to settle permanently in the Dutch Republic. Friends of his friends had backed an uprising against the king.

Ban the Burka

Taj Hargey

Boris Johnson is justified in reminding everyone that the fad of female facial masking has no Koranic legitimacy. It is a nefarious component of a trendy gateway theology for religious extremism and militant Islam.

The burka and niqab are hideous tribal garments that are pre-Islamic, non-Koranic, and un-Muslim. Although this deliberate identity-concealing contraption is banned at the Kaaba in Mecca it is permitted in Britain.

The retrogressive Islamic clergy is a toxic patriarchy controlling women. Many younger women have internalised this poisonous chauvinism by asserting that it is their human right to hide their faces.

Britain must emulate France, Belgium, Austria, Bulgaria, and Denmark in banning the burka.

AR The burka is a symbol of foul oppression paraded by innocents. In this respect it resembles the swastika, which should also be banned from public display except in historical contexts.

2018 August 8

Johnson Joke

The Guardian

Boris Johnson is no longer foreign secretary. His letter-box joke about Muslim women who wear the burqa does not come with the imprimatur of the British government.

Johnson was not interested in a discussion about the burqa. He craves the Conservative leadership, a job which too many members of his party think he would do well.

Mesmerised by Brexit and the prejudices that drive it, the Conservative party is turning its back on the parts of the population that do not think this way.

Boris Johnson and his backers are chasing a dream of a flag-waving, small-state, free-market utopia inhabited by people like them. Stop them!

AR See my July essay on BoJo.

NASA Mission to the Sun


In 1958, Eugene Parker said the Sun emits a steady stream of hot particles he called the solar wind. Over the next 60 years, NASA explored the entire solar system except the Sun.

On August 11, the Parker Solar Probe is due to blast off on a Delta IV heavy-lift rocket from Cape Canaveral. Its 7-year mission: to help us understand how our star works. NASA astrophysicist Nicholeen Viall: "The sun is a natural lab that we cannot reproduce on Earth."

NASA had to engineer a heat shield capable of protecting the cameras, particle sampler, and devices to measure electric and magnetic fields that fill the probe. The heat shield is made of two layers of a carbon composite with a carbon aerofoam core and weighs only 72 kg.

The flight trajectory will make 24 turns around the Sun and 7 close flybys of Venus to set the probe on a spiral orbit that passes only 6 Gm from the solar surface. When the mission ends in 7 years, the craft will run out of fuel and burn up.

The mission is designed to answer a few questions:
Why is the solar wind occasionally powerful enough to wreak havoc on Earth?
Why does the wind speed up so that by the time it reaches us it is supersonic?
Why is the solar corona so hot, about 300 times hotter than the stellar surface?

Viall: "Ultimately, the .. solar wind is powered by the Sun's magnetic field. Somehow the magnetic field is building up energy, storing it in the solar atmosphere, and then releasing it."

The first useful data is due back in December.

Science denial

California fire
Californian apocalypse

Portugual fire
Slavoj Zizek
As temperatures rise over 50 C
we see we are just another
species living on Earth.
Our acts have longer

James Cook
Royal Mail
A forefather of mine
on the distaff side

Apple Apple worth $1012

What Would Winston Do? AR
Can Boris save the day?

State of the Climate 2017

Global surface temperatures
in 2017 were 0.43 ± 0.05 K
above the 1981−2010 average.
The 10 warmest years on
record have all occurred
since 1998 and the four
warmest since 2014.

Luo Yang
Luo Yang

What is Real?
The unfinished quest for the
meaning of quantum physics
By Adam Becker
— my Amazon review


2018 August 7

Hothouse Earth

Will Steffen et al.

There is a risk that positive feedbacks could push the Earth climate system toward a planetary threshold that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization and cause continued warming on a "Hothouse Earth" trajectory.

Crossing the threshold would lead to a much higher global average temperature than any interglacial in the past 1.2 million years and to sea levels significantly higher than at any time in the Holocene.

We examine the evidence that such a threshold might exist and where it might be. If the threshold is crossed, the resulting trajectory would likely cause serious disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economies.

Collective human action is required to steer the Earth system away from a potential threshold and stabilize it in a habitable state. Such action entails stewardship of the entire Earth system.

Co-author Johan Rockström: "I do hope we are wrong, but as scientists we have a responsibility to explore whether this is real .. In the context of the summer of 2018, this is definitely not a case of crying wolf."

AR We need global governance now.

California Burning

William Finnegan

In Los Angeles, fire season now stretches into December. US fire seasons are on average 78 days longer than they were in 1970. Wildfires burn twice the area they did 30 years ago.

Climate change has brought longer, hotter summers and a series of devastating droughts, priming landscapes to burn. The US Forest Service spent 16% of its budget on fire suppression in 1995. In 2015, it spent $2.6 billion, more than half of its budget.

Aviation has an important part to play in certain types of fire suppression. Commanders on the ground have learned that it can be good to let the governor or congressperson appear to be riding to the rescue of his constituents with air power, no matter how expensive and unhelpful it may be.

The Arctic is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the globe. The size, frequency, range, and intensity of wildfires in Alaska and northern Canada have increased far more rapidly than in lower latitudes. Soot and ash from these northern fires is blackening glaciers and the Greenland ice cap, causing them to melt at a faster rate.

Boreal forests store enormous amounts of carbon that megafires release. High-latitude peatlands store carbon that is released by tundra fires. Peat also stores vast amounts of mercury, which fire releases into the atmosphere. The smoke from Canadian fires travels around the entire globe.

The Anthropocene world is getting hotter and more flammable. The Trump administration shows little awareness of what is at stake.


2018 August 6

After the Fall

John Lanchester

What happened in the fall of 2008 was supposed to be impossible. No one had imagined all the credit simultaneously disappearing from everywhere, to leave the entire system teetering on the brink.

The bailout of the banks was both necessary and a disaster. Governments decided to restore order to their finances by resorting to austerity measures. We had austerity, but not for banks.

The sense that the people who caused the crisis got off scot free has been central to the story of the last ten years. The UK has had the longest period of declining real incomes in recorded economic history, and the US real median hourly income is about the same as it was in 1971. Life expectancy is falling in both countries.

There has been almost no reform of the banking system and international finance. The problem of banks that are too big to fail is more serious than it was ten years ago. The failing banks were eaten by surviving banks, some of which now have balance sheets as big as the host country's GDP.

The shadow banking system is much less regulated than formal banks. The Financial Stability Board estimates its size at $160 trillion, bigger than the entire commercial banking sector. Shadow banking played a huge role in the 2008 crash.

Financial markets today are in data centres. The overwhelming majority of financial dealing is in unsupervised over-the-counter (OTC) transactions. The Bank for International Settlements estimates the size of the OTC market at $532 trillion.

Quantitative easing (QE) is the government buying back its own debt with newly minted electronic money. People buy things with the new money and prices go up. QE has been a direct driver of inequality and of the UK housing crisis.

Studies of the global balance sheet consistently show more liabilities than assets. The difference, some $9 trillion, is hidden by rich people in tax havens. Governments could easily outlaw transactions with those territories.

The sense of a system gone wrong has led to Brexit and Trump.

German Security Nightmare

Constanze Stelzenmüller

Germans have angst again. For 40 years, they lived with the dread of instantly becoming radioactive fallout should the Cold War ever turn hot. Now NATO looks less secure.

European Nuclear Deterrence
Roderich Kiesewetter, November 2016

Germany should try to persuade nuclear powers France and Britain to provide security guarantees for all of Europe.

"The US nuclear shield and nuclear security guarantees are imperative for Europe. If the United States no longer wants to provide this guarantee, Europe still needs nuclear protection for deterrent purposes .. Europe must start planning for its own security in case the Americans sharply raise the cost of defending the continent, or if they decide to leave completely."

A European nuclear umbrella could be financed through a joint European military budget due to begin in 2019.

AR Brexiteers will resist, fearing loss of their umbilical connection to America, so France and Germany will plow ahead — then one day nuke FUK?

2018 August 5

Life 3.0

Yuval Noah Harari

In Life 3.0, Max Tegmark offers a political and philosophical map of the promises and perils of the artificial intelligence revolution. He says the real problem is with the unforeseen consequences of good AI: "A superintelligent AI will be extremely good at accomplishing its goals, and if those goals aren't aligned with ours, we're in trouble."

Tegmark's map does not give enough attention to the confluence of AI with biotechnology. This century will be shaped by the merger of infotech with biotech. AI will give us the power to hack the human organism.

Once an algorithm knows you better than you know yourself, institutions such as democratic elections and free markets become obsolete, and authority shifts from humans to algorithms. We should worry about bots that know us well enough to sell us things — apocalypse by shopping.

The creation of superintelligent AI is an event on a global level. For 4 Gy, life on Earth evolved by natural selection. Now science is about to birth new life evolving by intelligent design.

AR My 1996 novel Lifeball was centrally about this big theme. My 2010 book G.O.D. Is Great took the same theme to a more practical level. My 2013 book Coral gave the same theme a back story in human history. All this is backdrop to my long review of Harari's books Sapiens and Homo Deus.

2018 August 4

Trump Verdict: "A++"

Adam Gabbatt

At a Trump rally in Pennsylvania this week, supporters were jubilant. They see Trump cutting their taxes, keeping out immigrants, putting foreign leaders in their place — and winning.

Suzie: "A-plus, A-plus-plus .. I'm going to end up with like $300 extra this year because of what he's done. No other president has given me a dime. Thank you, president, thank you. Finally something for the working people."

Bryan: "I like the fact he wants to build a wall. Immigrants .. come in and then they get here and they get government assistance .. taking it away from people who really may need it here."

Trump took the stage — "fake, fake, disgusting news .. horrible, horrendous people" — Suzie and Bryan were overjoyed.

Phyllis: "He's putting America first .. he's putting us Americans first above other countries, which is the way it always should have been."

David: "He said grab 'em by the pussy. And I get exactly what he meant by that. Grab these countries where they're weak. Take 'em down."

AR Trump and Brexit — AA world busted.

A People's Vote

Martin Fletcher

Chuka Umunna leads the campaign for a People's Vote on Brexit. He speaks for Labour: "In terms of the debate and atmosphere within the party, things are definitely moving towards a People's Vote."

On the campaign: "You've got to have future generations at the heart of it. It's got to look and sound like the whole of Britain and not just one part of it. And it's got to be hopeful and optimistic for the future."

AR Such a campaign has also got to find a practical way to recycle millions of former Leave voters contaminated by toxic nationalist propaganda.

The decontamination could be achieved by quarantining the former Leavers while they are rinsed by the truth until the lies have been washed from their minds.

The quarantine could be implemented by assisting the passage of those who chose to go to Australia, New Zealand, or Canada, if those nations would take them.

The quarantine would impose collateral damage on all UK residents if it were implemented by subjecting the British Isles to a Brexit blockade for a few years.

A blockade could end with formal dissolution of the UK and separate applications by its constituent nations for membership of the eurozone.

The Deep State

Tim Weiner

US president Donald Trump says the deep state is out to get him.

Jack Goldsmith thinks the deep state is real and sees a return to the days of J. Edgar Hoover, who used secret information as a weapon of political warfare.

President Nixon ordered Hoover to wiretap members of the National Security Council staff and the Washington press corps. The watchlist grew to include US senators. But after Watergate in 1972, neither the FBI nor the CIA could protect the president. Hoover was dead and Nixon was doomed.

Declassified cold war documents show that secret government in the United States was not controlled by Hoover but run from the White House.

The US deep state was a phantom born of secrecy and fear.

AR Deep state — fake news!

2018 August 3

Brexit Partnership

Michel Barnier

The UK will leave the EU on 29 March 2019. We respect its sovereign decision. Our task is now to organise the disentanglement of the UK from EU institutions and policies.

We still need to agree on important points. We need to find solutions for specific British territories, such as the UK bases in Cyprus and Gibraltar. We need to make sure that Brexit does not create a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The UK wants to leave our common regulatory area, where people, goods, services and capital move freely across national borders. These are the economic foundations on which the EU was built. These economic foundations cannot be weakened.

If we quickly find solutions to the outstanding withdrawal issues, I am sure we can build a future partnership between the EU and the UK that is unprecedented in scope and depth.

AR FUK partnership!

Just Say "Non"

Simon Nixon

Theresa May visits Emmanuel Macron today to try to persuade him to agree to a deal that will allow the UK to retain frictionless access to the EU single market in goods while operating its own trade policy and rejecting the single market in services, the free movement of people, and the direct jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

The 1950 Schuman Declaration said France, Germany, and other willing partners should pool their sovereignty to create a European market for coal and steel to be overseen by a high authority charged with setting rules in the common interest.

Jean Monnet: "The Schuman proposals are revolutionary or they are nothing .. The indispensable first principle is the abnegation of sovereignty .. any plan which does not involve this indispensable first principle can make no useful contribution to the grave problems that face us."

The UK twice tried to join the European Community. Charles de Gaulle rejected both UK applications. Today Macron will say "Non."

AR I love EU.

2018 August 2

Fields Medalists 2018


Caucher Birkar has helped reveal that many polynomial equations can be categorized into a small number of families by a finite number of characteristics. He works in a subfield of algebraic geometry called birational geometry.

Algebraic geometry combines algebra and geometry. The set of solutions common to a group of equations is known as an algebraic variety. An infinite number of algebraic varieties exist, each with a unique geometric representation.

Birational geometry is a way of transforming algebraic varieties to classify them into birational equivalence classes. There are three broad classes: Fano varieties, Calabi−Yau varieties, and varieties of general type. Each has a different type of uniform curvature.

Perhaps all algebraic varieties can be reduced to one of the three basic types via birational transformation. Birkar explored the classification structure for varieties of general type and proved that Fano varieties form a family defined by a small number of characteristics.

Alessio Figalli used optimal transport to prove the stability of various shapes: If you increase the energy of a system like a soap bubble or a crystal by some amount, then the resulting shape will deviate from the original shape by no more than some other amount. The inequality is optimal, meaning it limits how much the extra energy distorts the shape.

Start with a perfect crystal and deform it slightly by heating. Put the cold and warm versions next to each other and consider the optimal way of moving all the material from the cold crystal into the warm one. Figalli's inequality concerned the optimal transport map between the two shapes.

Figalli next proved the regularity of the Monge−Ampère equation. Regularity means that as you gradually change the inputs to an equation, the output changes gradually too. He proved the regularity of the semigeostrophic equations used in meteorology.

Peter Scholze launched a revolution in arithmetic geometry. His new work concerns cohomology, a way to study the holes in a geometric shape. His key innovation is a class of fractal structures he calls perfectoid spaces.

Arithmetic geometry uses geometric tools to understand integer solutions to polynomial equations. For some such equations, you can look for solutions among p-adic numbers. Scholze constructed an infinite tower of number systems with the p-adic numbers at the bottom and the simplest example of a perfectoid space at the top.

Perfectoid spaces let you move questions about polynomials from the p-adic world into one where arithmetic is easier. Scholze proved a statement about the p-adic solutions to polynomials called the weight-monodromy conjecture.

Scholze expanded the scope of reciprocity laws for polynomials in modular arithmetic. The laws generalize the quadratic reciprocity law that for two primes p and q, in most cases p is a perfect square on a clock with q hours iff q is a perfect square on a clock with p hours.

The link between reciprocity laws and hyperbolic geometry is a core part of the Langlands program, a vast web of connections between number theory, geometry, and analysis. Scholze has shown how to extend the program to a wide range of structures.

Akshay Venkatesh studied generalizations of the Riemann zeta function, which maps each number s to an infinite sum. Knowing which values of s make this function equal 0 can tell us how many primes exist below any given number. The Riemann hypothesis concerns where the 0s lie.

L-functions are variants of the zeta function in which 1s in the infinite sum are replaced by something more complicated, generally a mix of positive and negative terms. Each L-function has its own version of the Riemann hypothesis.

The generalized Riemann hypotheses imply subconvexity: roughly, the positive and negative numbers in the sequence of numerators of an L-function quickly start balancing each other out. Subconvexity estimates for L-function can help find patterns in the integers.

Venkatesh used ideas from dynamical systems to solve the subconvexity problem in great generality. He found subconvexity estimates for a huge family of L-functions.

2018 August 1

European Nightmare

Paul Goodman

Boris Johnson was largely written up as a poor foreign secretary, all mouth and no trousers. Four weeks ago, he was fifth in our party leadership poll. Today he is top again, scooping the best part of a third of the vote.

In a ballot of Conservative party members in a ballot, Johnson would likely win it. And the winner of a Tory leadership election, if held when the party is in government, becomes prime minister.

His unequivocal support for Brexit has been divisive. But there is a case for believing that if Brexit is to be done at all, someone who believes in it should take charge.

Johnson remains the only senior British politician with Churchillian projection and uplift.

AR Thus unfolds a nightmare of biblical proportions.

Climate Crisis

Paul Hockenos

The climate crisis is upon us. We must stave off the destruction of civilization as we know it.

This is mainstream opinion among serious scientists worldwide. Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.

Scientists see climate change as the consequence of burning fossil fuel. Technology that can replace fossil fuels is already in use and is enough for us to go completely green in the near future.

A global transition to renewable electricity with a full decarbonization of the electricity system is possible by 2050. Germany turned 40% of its electricity renewable in 15 years and prospered with the renewables surge. Norway and Iceland already run almost completely on renewable energy. Denmark plans to convert fully to renewable energy by 2050.

As individuals, we can curb our consumption and make our lifestyles sustainable. As citizens, we have to force our leaders to tackle the industrial giants whose fortunes are tied up in fossil fuels.

Global warming has hit home for all of us in 2018.

AR Americans: Endorse the Paris accord.

What Would Winston Do?

Boris Johnson recalls Winston Churchill as he confronts today's challenges: my review


Yuval Noah Harari's book
on the history of human
civilization was published
in 2014 and has so far sold
700,000 copies in the UK,
putting it at the top of
the bestseller lists.

My review

Jenna Dewan
Women's Health
Jenna Dewan shows
how to cope with
a heatwave

Burning Man 2018
Bjarke Ingels
1:500 000 scale Earth
mirror ball concept for
Burning Man 2018

AR A dome half that size
(1 mm = 1 km) tiled over
with pixels was my 1996
Thunderdome realtime
Earth weather imager

European population
The Lancet
European population structure:
National age profiles

Cohl Furey
Cohl Furey


2018 July 31

Russia Sells US Debt

CNN Money

Russia has sold off most of its holdings of US Treasury bonds, from about $100 billion at the start of the year to less than $15 billion today, with most of the sales in Q2. This is no big deal for America's ability to borrow money, since China still holds about $1.2 trillion in US Treasuries.

AR If Trump messes with China and China starts selling, bye-bye dollar. But maybe Russia sold for a reason other than in reply to US tariffs on Rusal aluminum: maybe it knows something we don't.

2018 July 30

What Would Winston Do?

Andy Ross

Boris Johnson, who served a disappointing term as UK foreign secretary from July 2016 to July 2018, paid fulsome homage to his hero Sir Winston Churchill in his delightful 2014 book The Churchill Factor .. Boris "BoJo" Johnson has obvious ambitions to become British prime minister .. Perhaps Boris will take his cue from Churchill's many policy flip-flops and undergo a Damascene conversion to the Remainer cause. That might save us all.

PDF: 9 pages, 142 KB

2018 July 29

Atommacht Deutschland?

Ansgar Graw, Thorsten Jungholt, Jacques Schuster

Christian Hacke: "Deutschlands neue Rolle als Feind Nummer eins des amerikanischen Präsidenten zwingt Deutschland zu radikalen Neuüberlegungen seiner Sicherheitspolitik .. Damit die USA sowohl die NATO als auch das Mitglied Deutschland wieder als verteidigungswürdig anerkennen, muss Deutschland auch mit Blick auf nukleare Abschreckung .. handeln."

Alexander Graf Lambsdorff: "Noch immer wird Deutschland misstrauisch beäugt .. Um so klarer muss artikuliert werden, wie wir uns Deutschlands Sicherheit im Bündnis vorstellen."

Horst Teltschik: "Die Aufrüstung Deutschlands als Nuklearmacht würde zu einer innenpolitischen Zerreißprobe führen und das machtpolitische Gesamtgefüge in der EU wie in Gesamteuropa erschüttern."

Peter Ammon: "Die wilden Tweets des US-Präsidenten Trump würden .. sicher nicht als hinreichender Grund akzeptiert werden, dass wir das globale Nichtverbreitungsregime zerstören .. Wir brauchen den Mut, auch außenpolitisch in neuen Dimensionen zu denken."

Harald Kujat: "Russland würde ein eurostrategisches, nukleares Gegengewicht aufbauen."

AR Merge British and French nuclear forces in a new European deterrent and let the EU pay for it.

EU-US Trade Deal

Peter Müller, Christian Reiermann

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker managed to secure a trade deal with US president Donald Trump. The deal was greeted with relief on both sides. Trump wanted it.

One tweet from Trump could undo the whole thing. But Juncker was the subject of mockery and ridicule just before his trip to Washington. No one expected him to come back with a deal.

Juncker used simple visual messages to get by Trump's short attention span. The EU had responded to attack by retaliating in a reasonable manner but leaving the door open for talks.

AR Memo to self: Use more PowerPoint visual messaging on this blog.

2018 July 28

Hot Weather

Adam Corner

Britain is a little red blotch on a global weather map. That map is a sea of red because the climate is changing. The British government announced Thursday that adapting to a warming climate was now a matter of life and death.

Unlike in the American press, there is relatively little outright denial of climate change in the mainstream British news media. But journalists struggle to find the right tone and worry about compromising their neutrality.

Many British climate scientists fear that speaking out plainly and confidently about the impacts of climate change will lead to them being branded as activists. Campaigners often hesitate and wait in line behind the scientists.

The world is catching fire before our eyes, the predictions of climate scientists are coming true, and we are fumbling conversations about the causes.

Heat Waves and Climate Change

Center for Climate Change and Energy Solutions

Extreme heat is the deadliest natural disaster in the United States, killing more people on average (about 600 per year) than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods combined.

Over the past decade, daily record high temperatures have occurred twice as often as record lows across the continental United States.

By midcentury, if greenhouse gas emissions are not significantly curtailed, scientists expect 20 record highs for every record low.

AR Ivanka should talk with her dad.

2018 July 27

Quantum Delayed-Choice Experiments

Anil Ananthaswamy

John Wheeler designed an experiment to show that if you say quantum objects such as photons have classical properties then you have to concede that the future can influence the past.

Rafael Chaves and his team showed that Wheeler's experiment, given certain assumptions, could allow a model that sees a photon as like a classical particle. To test their loophole, the team proposed a variant of Wheeler's experiment.

Fire a photon at a half-silvered mirror, or beam splitter. The photon is either reflected or transmitted with equal probability. The photon will take either path 1 or path 2, and then go on to hit either detector D1 or D2 with equal probability. The photon acts like a particle.

At the point where path 1 and path 2 cross, add a second beam splitter. Quantum mechanics says the photon seems to take both paths, forming two waves that meet again at the second beam splitter. The rig can be set up so that the waves combine constructively when they move toward D1 and destructively toward D2. The photon is always found at D1 and never at D2, like a wave.

Wheeler said delay the choice of whether to add the second beam splitter. If the photon enters the interferometer without the second beam splitter in place, it acts like a particle. If we add the second beam splitter, even at the last nanosecond, the photon acts like a wave and goes only to D1. It seems it went back in time and flipped from particle to wave.

In the variant experiment, the second beam splitter is always there. Two phase shifts, one near the beginning of the experiment and one toward the end, serve as dials the researcher can adjust at will. Their net effect is to change the relative lengths of the paths and hence the interference pattern, and the presumed behavior of the photon. The second phase shift is set after the first.

To distinguish between a classical causal model and quantum mechanics, the team calculated what to expect for each combination of dial settings and constructed a formula X such that if X = 0, the classical causal model can explain the statistics, but if X > 0, no classical model can explain the outcome. Experiments show that X > 0, closing the loophole.

Quantum mechanics wins again.

AR As anyone who has made the effort to study it in depth expected.

2018 July 26

Trump: "Big Day for Free and Fair Trade"

The Guardian

The United States and the European Union stepped back last night from a trade war.

US president Donald Trump: "We agreed .. to work together toward zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods."

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker: "I had the intention to make a deal today, and we have made a deal today."

Trump and Juncker said they would resolve the dispute over US steel and aluminum tariffs. The EU will import more liquefied natural gas and soybeans from the US. The US and EU will work together to reform the WTO and cut down on unfair trade practices.

Trump: "This was a very big day for free and fair trade, a very big day indeed."

Destined for War

Graham Allison

By 1900, Germany was was an economic dynamo and the strongest land power in Europe.

In 1914, Britain found itself fighting beside former rivals to prevent Germany from gaining strategic mastery in Europe. Germany experienced enormous development in a very short time, but saw its path to global greatness blocked by what it considered an unjust and covetous incumbent.

By 1914, Germany's population of 65 million was 50% larger than Britain's. Germany grew to become Europe's leading economy, surpassing Britain by 1910. By 1913, it accounted for more of global manufacturing output than Britain did. Prior to unification, it had produced only half the steel Britain did; by 1914, it produced twice as much.

Britons saw German exports displacing British products at home and abroad. Between 1890 and 1913, Britain's exports to Germany doubled, but were still worth only half the value of its imports from Germany, which had tripled.

Germany was overtaking Britain not only in heavy industry and factory products but also in the electrical and petrochemical industries. By 1900, its organic-chemical industry controlled 90% of the global market. In 1913, Britain, France, and Italy together produced and consumed only about 80% of the electricity that Germany did.

By 1914, German science and technology had become the best in the world.

AR Many Brits are still in denial about German dominance.

2018 July 25

Brexit: Let the People Vote

The Independent

The British people deserve a final say on Brexit. Parliament is deadlocked. After the summer recess, there will be more divisions in the Commons, more ministerial resignations, more leadership crises, more confusion, more uncertainty.

The hard Brexiteers will keep their eyes on the prize of Brexit. They have every incentive to confuse, prevaricate, and delay. Chaos suits them just fine as long as it lets them win their prize.

The British people decided to go for Brexit in 2016. Given the magnitude of the decision, they must have the final say.

Brexit: Vote on Final Deal

Dominic Grieve

The 2016 referendum established the principle of our leaving the EU. It left open the form of relationship we might then have with it once we left. A collective policy has at last been arrived at with the white paper.

Some say a further consultation of public opinion on Brexit would be divisive, but it is difficult to see how it would be more so than what is happening now.

To push Brexit through in chaos only to discover soon thereafter that the electorate are unhappy with the outcome would be a massive abdication of responsibility for good governance.

Brexit: Hear the People

Chuka Umunna

A new poll of how people would vote on a Brexit deal shows 38% opting to leave with no deal, 50% for remaining in the EU, and just 11% for the white paper plan.

This makes the case for a vote on the final Brexit deal more urgent. Give power back to the electorate and allow them to vote on whether to leave with a bad deal or remain and reform our country within the EU.

Whatever your opinion on Brexit, it should not be left to 650 politicians in London to decide our future: 65 million people's voices have to be heard.

2018 July 24

Brexit: Taking Back Control

The Guardian

UK prime minister Theresa May: "I will lead the negotiations with the European Union, with the secretary of state for Exiting the European Union deputising on my behalf."

May takes back control of negotiations with Brussels from her new Brexit secretary Dominic Raab just hours after the government published a new white paper on withdrawing from the EU.

The new plan keeps the UK subject to all EU laws and the ECJ until the end of 2020: "EU law will continue to have effect in the UK in the same way as now for this 21-month period."

From the foreword by Dominic Raab: "We have agreed a reciprocal deal protecting the rights of our citizens, the structure of a financial settlement and a time-limited implementation period which will smooth the path to our future relationship but also offer people reassurance on the finality of negotiations and the Brexit process."

The EU should forget its red lines and take May's plan seriously
Jean Pisani-Ferry, Norbert Röttgen, André Sapir, Paul Tucker, Guntram Wolff

The UK government has set out what the UK wants and what it does not want, takes into account constraints on both sides, allows precise discussions, and recognises a shared interest in preserving strong economic and security ties.

On goods, the UK proposes a free trade agreement where rules of origin are replaced by a
    customs cooperation regime and common regulation for specific products.
On services, the UK aims at a deep relationship.
On labour mobility, the EU must decide whether to stick to the four freedoms.
On governance, the white paper proposes dialogue and consultation but no formal UK vote,
    plus recognition that British courts would pay due regard to ECJ case law.

For the white paper to be a game changer, it must have parliamentary support. The EU must say what kind of relationship it wants in the long term.

BINO is the worst of all worlds
Tony Blair

"I fully accept the prime minister is putting forward the government white paper as a well-intentioned attempt to do Brexit whilst minimising the economic disruption to Britain. But this solution [Brexit in name only] won't work, won't end the argument and will simply mean a confused outcome in which we continue to abide by Europe's rules whilst losing our say over them."

AR BINO or remain — all other options are mad.

2018 July 23

Octonions and the Standard Model

Natalie Wolchover

Theorists suspect the Standard Model springs logically from the properties of octonions.

Complex numbers can be represented by real coordinates on a 2D plane. Suitably paired, complex numbers form 4D quaternions, discovered in 1843 by William Rowan Hamilton. His friend John Graves later showed that pairs of quaternions make octonions, which form an 8D space.

There the game stops. The reals, complex numbers, quaternions, and octonions are the only kinds of numbers that can be added, subtracted, multiplied, and divided. The first three of these division algebras were key for much of physics, with real numbers everywhere, complex numbers in quantum mechanics, and quaternions in special relativity.

The division algebras get harder in four steps. With each step from real numbers to complex numbers to quaternions to octonions, you double the dimensions and lose a property. Real numbers can be totally ordered from smallest to largest, but complex numbers cannot. Quaternions lose commutativity: a × b ≠ b × a. And the octonions are nonassociative: (a × b) × c ≠ a × (b × c).

In the Standard Model, the particles are manifestations of the symmetry groups SU(3), SU(2) and U(1), corresponding to the strong, weak, and electromagnetic forces, respectively, acting on six types of quarks, two types of leptons, plus their antiparticles, with each type of particle coming in three generations differing by mass.

Cohl Furey has reconstructed the Standard Model using the product of the four division algebras, ℝ ⊗ ℂ ⊗ ℍ ⊗ 𝕆 (ℝ for reals, ℂ for complex numbers, ℍ for quaternions, 𝕆 for octonions), sometimes called the Dixon algebra. This algebra forms a 64-D space in which particles are mathematical ideals: elements of a subspace that, when multiplied by other elements, stay in that subspace. Her idea is that the particles manifest the symmetries of the Dixon algebra.

The Dixon algebra splits into two parts: ℂ ⊗ ℍ and ℂ ⊗ 𝕆. In Furey's model, the Lorentz group symmetries associated with how particles move in 4D spacetime arise from the quaternionic part, ℂ ⊗ ℍ. The symmetry group SU(3) × SU(2) × U(1), associated with particle properties and interactions via the strong, weak, and EM forces, come from the octonionic part, ℂ ⊗ 𝕆.

The octonions (1, e1, e2, e3, e4, e5, e6, e7) are unit distances in 8 orthogonal directions and respect a group of symmetries called G2, which is an exceptional group. Holding e7 constant while transforming the other unit octonions reduces their symmetries to SU(3) and enables one to build an octonionic model of the strong force acting on a single generation of quarks.

Furey constructed the Standard Model symmetry group, SU(3) × SU(2) × U(1), for a single generation of particles, with the math producing the correct array of properties for an electron, neutrino, three up quarks, three down quarks, and their antiparticles. She used ℂ ⊗ 𝕆 to construct the Standard Model symmetries SU(3) and U(1). The Higgs mechanism breaks SU(2) × U(1) down into U(1).

String theory predicts 10-D spacetime (9 space + 1 time). So do octonions.

AR Math in my twilight zone.

FIA 2018

FIA 2018
Farnborough sports a nostalgic Anglo-American hue this year

EU lehnt den britischen
Brexit-Plan ab


J. Doyne Farmer
J. Doyne Farmer

Man and woman

EU-Japan deal
EU and Japan sign free
trade deal covering a
third of global GNP

AR US/UK lose


Vote Leave fined and
reported to police by
Electoral Commission

World Cup 2018
Le président Emmanuel Macron
affirme que les joueurs de la
Coupe du Monde seront tous
récompensés par la
Légion d'Honneur

"I think the European Union
is a foe, what they do
to us in trade."
Donald Trump

"Tommy Robinson is the
backbone of this
country [UK]."
Steve Bannon

Nord Stream
Nord Stream

Trump, Morgan
Mail on Sunday
Donald Trump, Piers Morgan

The Times
"Unfortunately, there was a
story that was done which was
generally fine, but it didn't
put in what I said about the
prime minister, and I said
a tremendous thing."
Donald Trump


2018 July 22

Farnborough International Airshow

Farnborough, UK

AR See my photos

2018 July 21

Brexit White Paper

The Guardian

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier: "I am not negotiating .. on the basis of the white paper."

On Ireland: "We have invited the UK to work on the backstop next week .. We are working on the basis of what was agreed in March with Theresa May."

The "facilitated customs arrangement" raised practical, legal, economic, and budgetary questions.

On breaching EU red lines: "There are some elements which do seem to contradict .. the indivisibility of the four freedoms and the integrity of the single market."

AR Flushed away.

2018 July 20

UK Preps No-Deal Brexit

Financial Times

HM Government is considering a plan to shut down the M26 motorway in Kent and turn it into a truck park to cope with tailbacks from the port of Dover if the UK crashes out of the EU in a No Deal Brexit. The motorway would become a holding area for up to 1,400 freight trucks to try to ease the gridlock as up to 10,000 trucks a day suddenly require customs checks to enter the EU.

UK Warehousing Association chief executive Peter Ward: "Half the food we consume is imported: 80% of that imported food comes from Europe and 90% of that comes through the Dover corridor."

The government is bracing for possible chaos if relations sour with the EU and cooperation ends after next March. A sudden rupture would affect almost every part of British life, and the government looking at using the military to keep the country running. Over the summer, the government will issue weekly advice to businesses and households on how to prepare for a disorderly Brexit.

Freight Transport Association deputy chief executive James Hookham: "The M26 is a major artery and you have to pray it wouldn't come to this. It's certainly one of the options they are looking at in government. It would effectively mean that Cobra had taken over the road network as a matter of national security."

AR Bloody hell — Fortress UK will be a quarantine zone for rabid nationalists.

Preparing for the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU

European Commission

The withdrawal of the UK from the EU has repercussions for citizens, businesses, and administrations in both the UK and the EU. These repercussions range from new controls at the new EU outer border, to the validity of UK-issued licences, certificates, and authorizations, all the way to new conditions for data transfers.

The EU is working hard to reach an agreement on an orderly withdrawal and looks forward to discussing a framework for the future relationship with the UK. But there is no certainty that an agreement will be reached. Even if an agreement is reached, the UK relationship with the EU will no longer be one of a member state.

Everyone concerned needs to be prepared for the withdrawal on 30 March 2019. This communication follows the call of the EU27 leaders to intensify preparedness at all levels and encourages all stakeholders that may be affected by the UK withdrawal to take the necessary precautions and to take them now.

Brexit Britain Warns World

The Times

Theresa May is to put the UK on a no-deal Brexit footing this summer as she prepares a series of public warnings about the impact of leaving the EU without agreement.

The government plans to give consumers and companies detailed advice in weekly bundles from next week on how to prepare for a disorderly Brexit.

UK civil service chief executive John Manzoni warned MPs in committee: "I'm not sitting here today saying it's all going swimmingly well and we are ready, because we are not."

EU Warns UK About Tax

Financial Times

Brussels has warned the UK to end a series of illegal tax breaks or face court action as the EU escalates its complaints against UK fiscal arrangements ahead of Brexit.

European Commission: "If the UK does not act within the next two months, the commission may refer the case to the European Court of Justice."

Brexit Diehards Lost Control

Philip Stephens

Theresa May's government has lost control. So too have the Brextremists.

Brexiteers aim to impose their Elizabethan fantasies of a buccaneering England upon the world. They can wreck May's plans but they cannot force through their own. They are wrong to say the only way is hard Brexit.

Most of the hard gang are English nationalists.

AR The diehards are ranting their little hearts out.

2018 July 19

EU Fines Google €4.3 Billion

Financial Times

In a landmark ECJ antitrust ruling, the EU has imposed a €4.3 billion fine on Google and given it 90 days to overhaul its Android OS to remove restrictions designed to stymie competition.

Google will appeal against the decision. The company is looking at "interim measures" with the ECJ to avoid "serious and irreparable harm" to its business. An emergency court order could delay the required changes to business operations until the appeal is heard.

The EU says Google has used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine.

AR Using a fine to impose a tax perverts justice and endangers respect for the law.

Artificial Intelligence

Gary Shapiro

Google has pulled back on an AI project with the Pentagon after its employees expressed reservations about using AI for military purposes.

We must strive to prioritize ethics above all else. AI can empower us to create machines that reinforce and strengthen our collective humanity.

AR Don't be evil — good mantra.

Collective Awareness

J. Doyne Farmer

We need new approaches to making economic models. Economics is a lot harder than physics because people can think. If you make a prediction about the future of the economy, people may respond to your prediction and invalidate it by behaving in a way that creates a different future.

My models make alternative assumptions to those made in standard economic models. A standard economic model assumes that people have a utility function, which measures what they want. Each agent maximizes their utility based on expectations about the world. A rational agent has a good model of the world and optimizes utility accordingly. But real people are not rational.

Utility is about goals. It means maximizing something, like the logarithm of wealth, or consumption through time, appropriately discounted to include not just your consumption today, but your consumption tomorrow. Prospect theory treats your losses differently than your gains. Utility gives a useful way to put goals into a model, but we need to go beyond it.

Economists embellish their models with frictions, which are essentially constraints on perfect rationality. Macro models have developed over the years by adding more and more frictions. We need to seriously re-examine the whole program. We need to build simulations of the economy at a much finer level that take advantage of all the data that new technologies provide us with.

Places like the US Federal Reserve Bank make predictions using a system called national accounting, and it produces numbers like GDP, unemployment, and so on. The numbers arrive at a very slow timescale, and are typically lagged because it takes a lot of time to process the data, and the numbers are often revised later. The data is old fashioned and the models are old fashioned.

With the Internet, we can gather rich data about what the economy is doing at the level of individuals. With modern computer technology we could simulate the economy at the level of the individuals. We can simulate what every company is doing and what every bank is doing in the United States. We need to do it.

The big picture in the present world has me very worried. Populism seems to be taking over. This is in part caused by the wrong kind of economics. We need new ideas for how we go forward in the world that can accelerate our collective awareness.

AR Farmer is a professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford and was formerly a leading chaos theorist at the Santa Fe Institute.

2018 July 18

Trump "Misspoke"

The New York Times

At the White House on Tuesday, reading from a script, President Trump attempted to clarify his remarks in Helsinki on Monday about Russian interference in the 2016 election. He said he misspoke. Did he? You decide:

Trump: "I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we've all been foolish .. we have both made some mistakes .. There was no collusion at all .. zero collusion .. just to say it one time again — and I say it all the time — there was no collusion .. There was nobody to collude with. There was no collusion with the campaign ..

.. Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? .. Where is the server? I want to know where is the server and what is the server saying? .. President Putin .. just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be. But I really do want to see the server."

AR He says he wanted to say: "I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be."

We Lost America

Martin Wolf

The US president seems hostile to core American values of democracy, freedom, and the rule of law.

The US economy has recently served the majority of its people ill. The distribution of income is exceptionally unequal. Real median household disposable incomes are the same as they were two decades ago, while mean incomes are much higher.

Relentless and systematic devotion to the interests of the very rich — propaganda, dividing poor voters on cultural and racial lines, ruthless gerrymandering, and outright voter suppression — is the politics of greed and grievance.

Trump is the price of tax cuts for billionaires. The old America is gone.

AR Note the fateful contrast between median and mean.

Natural Sex

Jordana Cepelewicz

A new model predicts how many mating types will emerge in a species based on the mutation rate, the population size, and the frequency of sex.

Early in evolution, organisms had mating types, which need not come in pairs. The types evolved as a barrier against behaviors like inbreeding. Sex with an incompatible type is generally infertile.

Logic suggests that species should benefit from many mating types. With two types, only half the population is eligible as a mate for any individual. If a mutation led to a new type, it could mate with all others and produce more offspring.

A low number of mating types is stabler. With two types, pheromone signaling networks are more efficient and sorting of organelles going from parent to offspring cells is easier.

The new model allows that species do not always reproduce sexually. During periods without sex, mating type becomes a neutral trait. Chance dictates the dominance and disappearance of types.

In the model, large populations using mostly sexual reproduction can sustain more mating types. To get only two mating types, reproduction has to be sexual just once every few thousand generations. The model fits the data.

AR Amoebas and fungi maybe. Mammals have only two sexes and always breed sexually.

2018 July 17


Fox News

US Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released the following statement:

"Today's press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. The damage inflicted by President Trump's naivety, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate ..

.. Coming close on the heels of President Trump's bombastic and erratic conduct towards our closest friends and allies in Brussels and Britain, today's press conference marks a recent low point in the history of the American Presidency ..

.. Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are — a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad. American presidents must be the champions of that cause if it is to succeed."


The New York Times

US president Donald Trump, standing next to Russian president Vladimir Putin, undermined the unanimous conclusion of his own intelligence and law enforcement agencies that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 election:

"My people .. said they think it's Russia .. President Putin .. said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be."

House speaker Paul Ryan: "The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals."

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell: "The Russians are not our friends, and I entirely believe the assessment of our intelligence community."

Senator John McCain: "No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant."

Trump's own senior national security advisers have identified Russia as one of America's chief geostrategic adversaries, along with China.

Putin has crushed most political opposition at home and is aggressively asserting Russian power abroad. His agents have used chemical weapons in Britain. He is working hard to sabotage US ties to NATO and the EU and to weaken US influence in the Mideast.

A benefit: Putin gave Trump a shiny new soccer ball.


Thomas L. Friedman

Donald Trump appears to be an asset of Russian intelligence. What happened in Helsinki was a historic moment in the history of the United States. Trump basically threw his entire intelligence establishment under a bus.

Former CIA director John Brennan: "Donald Trump's news conference performance in Helsinki .. was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump's comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin."

Trump is insanely obsessed with what happened in the last election. But now he is president, and he has a responsibility to ensure that the Russians be punished for interfering in that election.

Brexit: May Accepts Changes

The Times

UK prime minister Theresa May's "softer Brexit" white paper is "dead in the water" after she accepted four wrecking amendments to a key piece of legislation.

The concession enraged Remainers. Without help from opposition parties, May can be defeated if six MPs rebel. Up to 80 MPs went to a meeting of the Jacob Rees-Mogg's European Research Group last week, and many attacked her plan.

AR May won the day, just.

Brexit: EU View

Wolfgang Münchau

The EU will not compromise on the freedom on movement of goods, services, capital, and people. Nor will it sacrifice the integrity of the single market.

EU leaders want a final deal.

2018 July 16



US president Trump said his meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin had improved the relationship between the two countries: "Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed as of about four hours ago. I really believe that .. Nothing would be easier than to refuse to meet, to refuse to engage, but that would not accomplish anything."

The Trump Doctrine

Gideon Rachman

Donald Trump has taken an axe to the Washington consensus. The emerging Trump doctrine:

1 Economics first: Trump sees making America great again in economic terms. He looks at trade surpluses and blurs the line between allies and adversaries. He calls the EU a foe.

2 Nations not institutions: Trump sees international institutions as bastions of political correctness. He prefers to bully other nations one-on-one. He is undermining global order.

3 Culture not values: Trump shows little interest in democracy promotion or human rights. For him the west is based on culture or race. He thinks immigration is a threat to the west.

4 Spheres of interest: Trump is no believer in universal values and rules. He is ready to divide the world into spheres of influence. He questions the value of US global alliances.

Trump likes strongman leaders. US economic supremacy is gone and America needs allies.

Brexit: Kiss Trump, Kick EU

Nesrine Malik

Donald Trump's UK visit was an object lesson in degradation. He came, he saw, and he humiliated the British political establishment. Proud Brexiteers turned into appeasers in front of Trump.

Their outrage and pride might be better directed at the US president. Brexiteers fail to see that EU members are much more formidable as a unit. British governments need not grovel to US economic and military supremacy.

The Trump−May press conference was painful to watch. Brexiteers stood cowed as an incompetent, reckless president meted out insults and diktats. This was not diplomacy but desperation.

Brexit: BBC Fail

Nick Cohen

The BBC is failing in its coverage of the Brexit referendum and its aftermath. Political leaders suppress truths by saying all journalistic choices are ideological, but a reporter who accepts that argument has given up on journalism.

The BBC follows the highest journalistic standards, yet it feels it must also reflect the national mood. Britain voted to leave the EU. The nation spoke, and the BBC has done what every enemy of free inquiry wants reporters to do.

There is almost no BBC reporting of the scandals around the Brexit referendum: the Cambridge Analytica data leak, the Brexit campaign overspend, and Russian interference in British politics. The BBC must do better.

Brexit: Let The People Decide

Justine Greening

The prime minister's Chequers agreement is a fudge I can't support. For Remainers, the deal means leaving the EU yet complying with many EU rules we will have no say in shaping. For Leavers, the deal does not deliver the proper break from the EU they wanted.

Parliament is stuck in a stalemate. Labour is as divided as the Conservatives, because Brexit is an issue that cuts across traditional party lines. Even with a free vote on the final deal in parliament, many people will feel disenfranchised, despite Brexit shaping all our lives for decades to come.

The only solution is to give the final Brexit decision back to the people. Ask the public to choose between three paths: the PM's final negotiated deal, staying in the EU, or leaving with no deal. Crucially, the referendum should give the public a first and second preference vote, allowing a consensus finally to be found.

This is exactly how we deliver elected mayors across the country. It can deliver a clear voting majority on the way forward, a unique chance to settle the European question for a generation.

AR Greening is right — this is now the best solution.

2018 July 15

Friendly Fire

Der Spiegel

The showdown between US president Donald Trump and German chancellor Angela Merkel took place on the second day of the NATO summit in Brussels.

Trump talked himself into a fury and then began issuing threats. He said every NATO country, including Germany, should reach the 2% target by next year. At the 2014 summit the partners had agreed to "aim" to spend 2% of GDP on defense by 2024. Trump raged that wants it to happen by next year, or he would go his own way.

NATO leaders held a crisis meeting. Trump: "So, we're supposed to protect Germany, but they're getting their energy from Russia. Explain that."

Merkel said the Germans are already going to increase the military budget to 1.5% of GDP by 2024: "Our hands are completely full just implementing that."

Trump complained about Germany's gas deals with Russia. Merkel said Germany gets less than 40% of its natural gas supplies from Russia.

As in his fight against European cars, the goal of Trump's attacks against the Baltic Sea natural gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 from Russia to Germany is to damage competitors. Trump wants to make liquified natural gas from America more competitive in Europe. A few weeks ago, he threatened Nord Stream 2 investors with sanctions if they don't back out of the project.

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg tried to rescue the summit by suggesting leaders say they had committed to NATO and to higher defense spending. Trump stated publicly that Germany had committed to a further increase in defense spending. Fake news, sources close to Merkel said.

Never before in postwar history has a US president attacked a German government as frontally as Trump has done.

Trump on his German roots: "I'm proud to have that German blood. There's no question about it — great stuff. I'm strong and I'm very reliable. I'm on time, I get things done — and that's basically the whole German culture."

AR Gearing up for a massive European ground war with Russia is warmongering.

Donald Trump On Air Force One

Piers Morgan

On the Queen: "She is so sharp, so wise, so beautiful. Up close, you see she's so beautiful. She's a very special person .. I liked her a lot."

On Brexit: "We would make a tremendously big deal .. We would make a great deal with the United Kingdom because they have product that we like. I mean they have a lot of great product. They make phenomenal things, you know, and you have different names — you can say 'England', you can say 'UK', you can say 'United Kingdom', so many different — you know you have, you have so many different names — Great Britain. I always say: 'Which one do you prefer? Great Britain? You understand what I'm saying?' "

On Europe: "I said Brexit was going to happen for a specific reason: immigration. I think the people of the UK want to have who they want in their country, and I think what's happening all over Europe is very sad .. it's changing Europe, and I don't mean in a positive way. I'm not the president of Europe, I'm the president of the United States, and we have a strong border, we have a tough border. And we have a different problem, but similar in certain ways."

On Putin: "I think we could probably get along very well .. It's too early to say but right now I say we're competitors. But for the United States, and frankly the UK and other places, to get along with Russia and China and all of these other places .. that's a really good thing."

On Twitter: "I just find it's a modern-day form of communication. I like the immediacy, I like the power of it because it gets the point across. I can combat that fake news because I have so many followers."

My Deal Is The Only Brexit Deal

Theresa May

Our Brexit deal for Britain seizes the moment to deliver the democratic decision of the British people and secure a bright new future for our country outside the EU. It restores our national sovereignty, it puts an end to the vast membership subscriptions we pay to Brussels, it grasps the opportunities of an independent trade policy.

We need to keep our eyes on the prize. If we don't, we risk ending up with no Brexit at all.

The legacy of Brexit cannot be a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. It cannot be the breaking up of our precious United Kingdom with a border down the Irish Sea. And it cannot be the destruction of integrated supply chains and just-in-time processes on which jobs and livelihoods depend.

I believe we need to come together behind our plan. We should also prepare for no deal.

AR Britain is too divided — call a new vote.

2018 July 14

Quantum Theory: Collapse

New Scientist

The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics claims that observations or measurements cause wave functions to collapse and macroscopic properties such as position and velocity to come into focus. No one has ever been able to define a measurement.

A physical mechanism to collapse wave functions without measurement may be a kind of noise that ripples throughout space, prompting wave functions to collapse rather as if there were a matrix of tiny detectors densely dotting the cosmos. This idea can be put to the test.

A classic experiment is to pass quantum particles through a pair of parallel slits, so that they diffract at both slits and form an interference pattern on a screen. Quantum theory says this can be done with arbitrarily large particles in flight for arbitrarily long times. Collapse theory says that big enough particles over long enough times will turn to dust.

Any objective collapse effect must be weak enough to allow a dust speck of mass about 1 ng (around 1 YeV) to stay in superposition for at least 1 as. But the effect must collapse the wave to dust in at most 10 μs. Experiments have reduced the range to 9 orders of magnitude.

Andrea Vinante and team fixed a 10 μm metal bead to a 500 μm silicon cantilever and cooled it to well below 1 K while monitoring its vibrations. Instead of shrinking the vibes arbitrarily far by cooling, they found a limit they said revealed a nonthermal force noise of unknown origin.

The European Commission has awarded a €4.4 million grant to an experiment to test objective collapse. Testing the large-scale limit of quantum mechanics (TEQ) involves cooling and levitating sub-μm glass balls in a magnetic field and monitoring their motion with lasers. If TEQ rules out objective collapse, interference experiments in space could probe further.

AR The source article here betrays a poor understanding of the core issues. When quantum theory is rightly understood, decoherence occurs without an extra mechanism and measurement is merely entanglement with the reality defined within the omnium by a consistent history of popped qubits. Transition to dust occurs for statistical reasons and its "objective collapse" is only the growth of a quanglement chain leading up to our classical reality.

I am still pondering how to proclaim my good news to a needy world.


Oscar Viñals
Aerospace visionary Oscar Viñals calls this his Hyper Shape Plane. With its blended wing body powered by quantum dot solar panels,
two double-helix wind turbines and two big hydrogen batteries, his HSP "solar skin" quantum age airplane is eco-friendly.

The Sun
"Oh wow. I love gifts."

"Dear America, appreciate
your allies. After all, you
don't have that many."
Donald Tusk

AR and friends
With Sir Robert and
Canford Cliffs girls
last Friday


2018 July 13

Trump Backpedals

Daily Mail

Donald Trump and Theresa May held a news conference at Chequers.

Trump: "I said to Theresa May I wanted to apologize, but she said don't worry, it's only the press .. The only thing I ask of Theresa is we make sure that we can trade and don't have any restrictions. We want the UK to trade with us. We have a tremendous opportunity to double, triple or quadruple trade .. after speaking with the PM and her representatives, it seems that will be possible .. I would give our relationship with the UK the highest level of special."

May: "We will put in place trade arrangements in the future."

Trump Sounds Off

The Sun

Donald Trump says Theresa May ignored his advice on Brexit: "If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the UK, so it will probably kill the deal .. If they do that, then their trade deal with the US will probably not be made .. No, if they do that I would say that that would probably end a major trade relationship with the United States."

He added: "I would have done it much differently. I actually told Theresa May how to do it but she didn't agree, she didn't listen to me. She wanted to go a different route. I would actually say that she probably went the opposite way. And that is fine. She should negotiate the best way she knows how. But it's too bad what is going on."

On the Brexit plan: "The deal she is striking is a much different deal than the one the people voted on. It was not the deal that was in the referendum. I have just been hearing this over the last three days. I know they have had a lot of resignations. So a lot of people don't like it."

On Boris Johnson: "I like him a lot. I have a lot of respect for Boris. He obviously likes me, and says very good things about me. I was very saddened to see he was leaving government and I hope he goes back in at some point. I think he is a great representative for your country .. I think he would be a great prime minister. I think he's got what it takes."

On Sadiq Khan: "You have a mayor who has done a terrible job in London. He has done a terrible job. Take a look at the terrorism that is taking place. Look at what is going on in London. I think he has done a very bad job on terrorism. I think he has done a bad job on crime, if you look, all of the horrible things going on there, with all of the crime that is being brought in."

On the NHS: "They had a story in one of the major New York newspapers recently about your hospital .. What they say is, it is worse than any hospital they have ever seen in a war zone. It is right in the middle of London. I guess it used to be the ultimate and now there is, you know, there is blood all over the walls, all over the floors. It was a very major story and I have heard it from others, too, so I think it is very sad, very sad."

On Europe: "I think what has happened to Europe is a shame. Allowing the immigration to take place in Europe is a shame. I think it changed the fabric of Europe and unless you act very quickly it's never going to be what it was, and I don't mean that in a positive way. So I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad."

On his visit: "Many people are delighted. I get thousands of notifications from people in the UK that they love the President of the United States .. I'll bet if you had an honest poll, I'd be very strong. They want the same thing I want. I love the UK."

Gudrun Burwitz (1929−2018)

The Times

Gudrun was the daughter of SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler. She was 12 when he took her on a special treat: "Today we went to the SS concentration camp at Dachau. We saw everything we could .. And afterwards we had a lot to eat .. it was very nice."

Her diary for April 1945: "Now things must start to look up again. I almost believe again in victory."

Blazar Flares Neutrinos

Katia Moskvitch

Last September, a cosmic neutrino triggered detectors from the IceCube experiment beneath the South Pole. At the same time, an orbiting gamma ray telescope spotted a jet of radiation from the same direction.

The source appears to be a supermassive black hole at the center of a distant galaxy. Every time a black hole eats a star, it flares out a jet of high-energy radiation. Astronomers call a flaring black hole a blazar.

Neutrino IceCube-170922A carried around 300 TeV of energy. The Fermi space telescope recorded a gamma flare from blazar TXS 0506+056. Other observatories recorded EM signals from the same blazar.

IceCube has spotted neutrinos with energies in the PeV range.

AR Flaring blazars — sanity in a world of Trump!

2018 July 12

Trump Visits UK


Theresa May and her husband greeted Donald Trump and his wife for a formal dinner at Blenheim Palace, the ancestral home of the Spencer-Churchill family and the birthplace of Winston Churchill.

Tomorrow, May will hold talks with the president at Chequers, her country residence, and the Trumps can look forward to tea with the Queen.

AR What a photo op it was on live television!

The Trump Doctrine

Ivan Krastev

In a 1990 Playboy interview, Donald Trump said the United States is "defending wealthy nations for nothing — nations that would be wiped off the Earth in about 15 minutes if it weren't for us".

Like other populist leaders, Trump knows his standing with voters hinges on making good on his most radical promises. He doesn't need to solve problems or outdo his predecessor. All he has to do is what mainstream politicians would never do.

Europeans have been America's allies for the past 70 years. But in Trump's world, there are no alliances, only fans and enemies. Fans are loyal to you no matter what. Enemies you can use to assert your power by breaking them or befriending them.

Europeans are doomed if they think the issue is how to salvage their alliance with the United States. The challenge now is learn to live in a world where America acts alone.

AR Brits beware: If the EU falls apart, the UK is toast.

NATO: Trump Says Spend 4%

The Times

Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: "He suggested that countries not only meet their commitment of 2% of their GDP on defence spending, but that they increase it to 4%. President Trump wants to see our allies share more of the burden and at a very minimum meet their already stated obligations."

AR Clearly a bid to get real spending over 2%. Germany is effectively under US occupation. If the bean counting approach is reciprocated, a large bill for rental of ground basing facilities, including arrears going back 70 years, might shut Trump up.

Bayesian Probability

David Papineau

Applications of Bayesian probability are now popular in brain science and statistics.

Thomas Bayes (1701−1761) was a Presbyterian minister whose best work was first published posthumously. His theorem states that the probability of A given B times the prior probability of B equals the probability of B given A times the prior probability of A:

p(A|B).p(B) = p(B|A).p(A)

Bayes saw the logic of learning from evidence. His theorem shows how science is based on the progressive assessment of theories by evidence.

Prior probabilities are hard to define. This problem turned statisticians against Bayes. They cooked up the idea of significance tests: Just reject your hypothesis if you observe results that would be very unlikely if it were true.

Their methodology is nonsense on stilts. Generations of statistics students were indoctrinated into the farrago of significance testing and filled the science journals with bogus results.

Science is now suffering a replicability crisis. Accepted findings in psychology and other disciplines have failed to be confirmed by repetitions of the original experiments. The failures of replication are the pigeons of significance testing coming home to roost.

The advent of modern computers has greatly expanded the application of Bayesian techniques. Judea Pearl and others developed the Bayesian networks now used across a wide range of fields in science, medicine, finance, and engineering.

A theory is disconfirmed if it makes the evidence unlikely and is supported otherwise. But we must also consider how probable the theory was to start with. Bayes was the first to see this.

AR I promoted the Bayesian approach in my 1974 thesis on the logic of probability theory.

2018 July 11

Trump on Germany


US president Donald Trump during a meeting with NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg: "Germany is a captive of Russia .. It certainly doesn't seem to make sense that they paid billions of dollars to Russia and we have to defend them against Russia .. How can you be together when a country is getting its energy from the person you want protection against or from the group that you want protection against?"

German chancellor Angela Merkel at NATO headquarters: "I have experienced myself how a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union. I am very happy that today we are united in freedom, the Federal Republic of Germany. Because of that we can say that we can make our independent policies and make independent decisions."

AR Trump seems to have no clue about strategic coexistence. Big win-win energy deals are a great way to reduce the need for massive arms spending for lose-lose nuclear war.

BoJo Ruined Britain

Jenni Russell

Britain is in a mess because Brexiteers sold the country a pack of lies in the 2016 referendum campaign. The Leave campaign leaders did not expect to win and made no plans. Two years later, they still have no plan for Brexit.

The gulf between the easy Brexit that many voters are expecting and the grim cost of disentangling economies that have been intertwined for decades has poisoned and paralyzed British politics. Conservative leaders cannot admit they were deceived without splitting the party. Brexiteers have doubled down with slogans and false cheer, in denial about the damage caused by a hard Brexit.

Boris Johnson now threatens to lead a rebellion against the government.

The Gaia Hypothesis

Bruno Latour

James Lovelock is the inventor of the Gaia hypothesis that living things fashion their environment. The environment is the unforeseen and involuntary effect of the action of living organisms. This goes for the atmosphere, the soils, and the chemical composition of the oceans.

Lovelock came up with the hypothesis at NASA in 1965. He considered how a Martian planetologist might know there was life on Earth by looking at the chemical distribution of the gases around the Earth: far too much oxygen and methane, far too little carbon dioxide. Only the action of organisms could explain the imbalance.

Lovelock was already famous as an inventor of precision instruments. His instruments could discern atmospheric pollution thresholds that were previously unquantifiable. Earth is a technosphere and living things are engineers. You have to think like Lovelock to understand this entanglement.

Lynn Margulis looks at Earth by starting with the smallest and oldest living organisms. Our bodies depend not only on our genes but also on those of numerous creatures living in our gut or crawling on our skin. Genes may be selfish but they don't know their limits.

Gaia is not a unified system. The homeostatis of an organism and the more erratic regulation of the climate are different. The Earth is not an organism. Living things are responsible only for a thin skin, a biofilm.

Before Gaia, modern citizens saw nature as a domain of necessity and their own society as the domain of freedom. But after Gaia these two distinct domains no longer exist. All living things are interlinked, folded, and entangled in each other.

AR On the self see my book Coral.

RAF100 RAF100 RAF100 RAF100

Leonard Susskind
Leonard Susskind
Quantum Mechanics
The Theoretical Minimum
My Amazon review

EU lawmakers vote to reject
overhaul of copyright rules
banning secondary posting
of content and opposed by
Tim Berners-Lee and others.

AR It would have
ruined this site.


2018 July 10

Royal Air Force Centenary

VIP Reception, Horse Guards Parade, London

AR I had a great time among the RAF top brass and international guests and took lots of photos.

BoJo Quits

The Times

UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson resigned yesterday, citing his inability to back the new Brexit plan. He is replaced by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

UK prime minister Theresa May will meet US president Donald Trump on Thursday. May: "Productive cabinet meeting this morning — looking ahead to a busy week."

Trump: "Boris Johnson's a friend of mine. He's been very, very nice to me. Very supportive. And maybe we'll speak to him when I get over there. I like Boris Johnson. I've always liked him."

AR BoJo gone — some good news at last!

2018 July 9

Brexit Secretary Quits

The Times

UK Brexit secretary David Davis resigned last night. Friends say he was fed up at being ignored and sidelined by the prime minister. Davis has held only four hours of direct talks with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier this year.

Davis: "It seems to me that the national interest requires a secretary of state in my department that is an enthusiastic believer in your approach, and not merely a reluctant conscript."

Brexit: Reality Dawns

The Guardian

Theresa May's plan for leaving the EU is a rare moment of victory for common sense in the madness of Brexit. Her red lines would have been a disaster for British business and jobs.

May proposes a common rulebook for all goods after Brexit and foresees UK judges "paying due regard" to ECJ law. But Brussels will not accept the facilitated customs arrangement.

Brexit is much more about the crisis in the Conservative party than the reality of what the EU27 can ever agree. Conservatism is struggling in an age of disruptive globalization.

2018 July 8

EU Diplomat: "Melange .. Goulash"

The Guardian

UK prime minister Theresa May aims to unite party and country behind her new Brexit blueprint.

Cabinet office minister David Lidington: "Free movement will come to an end, restoring control of our borders. The supremacy of British courts will be restored, by ending the jurisdiction of the ECJ in the UK, giving us back control of our laws. And there will be no more sending vast sums of money each year to the EU, giving us back control of our money."

Treasury select committee chair Nicky Morgan: "The cabinet have very deliberately chosen to listen to business and not swear at them or ask them to keep quiet. That is good for our future prosperity."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn: "I think .. the issue is going to have to come back to parliament."

AR Remain is still the best deal.

Electoral Law Broken

Carole Cadwalladr

The UK Electoral Commission has found the Vote Leave campaign guilty of breaking the law. This may have been the biggest electoral fraud in Britain in more than a century.

Officials are investigating overspending by Vote Leave, overspending by Leave.EU, coordination between Vote Leave and BeLeave, the source of at least £12 million in donations in gifts and loans by Arron Banks' company to Leave.EU, and the use of online data.

Banks has lied about his relationship to the Russian government. He was offered financial and other inducements by individuals connected to the Russian government and he had at least 11 meetings with Russian government officials, 7 more than he previously admitted.

Investigations and inquiries into this have been woefully underpowered and hopelessly delayed. The Electoral Commission cannot regulate online campaigning and its present powers are inadequate. We need an authority capable of investigating complex fraud, offshore finance, and Russian subversion techniques.

Banks said he didn't "give a monkey's" what the Electoral Commission said: "We were just cleverer than the regulators .. You're looking for a smoking gun but there's a smoking gun on every table! And no one cares. No one cares!"

AR The UK must update its political institutions or die.

2018 July 7

May Cabinet Agrees Soft Brexit

The Times

UK prime minister Theresa May has united her cabinet behind a soft Brexit that would keep Britain in parts of the single market. She secured the backing of senior ministers after a meeting at Chequers. She promised to sack foreign secretary Boris Johnson if he steps out of line.

May: "As we developed our policy on Brexit I have allowed cabinet colleagues to express their individual views. Agreement on this proposal marks the point where that is no longer the case and collective responsibility is now fully restored."

The proposal would tie Britain to EU rules industrial goods and agricultural products and would take Britain out of the single market for services.

May: "Now we must all move at pace to negotiate our proposal with the EU to deliver the prosperous and secure future all our people deserve."

Statement from HM Government

2018 July 6

Trade War


China accuses the United States of starting "the biggest trade war in economic history" as US tariffs take effect: "China is forced to strike back to safeguard core national interests and the interests of its people."

Environmental Protection

The New York Times

Scott Pruitt's appalling reign as Environmental Protection Agency administrator is finally over. Pruitt: "The unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us."

Pruitt was tireless in the crusade to dismantle environmental protections:
Playing a key role in getting the United States to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement
Pushing the repeal of numerous Obama-era regulations
Barring scientists who receive federal grants from serving on EPA advisory committees yet
    welcoming corporate representatives onto them

But the stench of corruption wafting from EPA headquarters was getting to be too much. Trump: "Within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this."

AR We are all thankful that he resigned.

2018 July 5

UK-Swedish 6G Fighter?

Financial Times

The UK is discussing a collaboration with Sweden on a future fighter jet. The UK government is expected to commit to launching a sixth-generation fighter program by 2020. The UK aims to play a leading design role in any partnership to develop a fighter to replace Typhoon from 2040.

The accord between Paris and Berlin to work on a roadmap for a future fighter program took the UK government by surprise. BAE has been working for years with Dassault Aviation on a future unmanned fighter, but collaboration is stalling in the wake of the Franco-German accord.

French and Germany plans for collaboration on a 6G fighter have expanded to include its role in a wider combat system. Dassault and Airbus are the prime industrial partners and France leads the program. If Britain were to join, it could be locked out of the planning and design phase.

AR After all the collaboration on Tornado and Typhoon, this is sad.

Gravitational and Inertial Mass Are Equivalent

New Scientist

Einstein's general theory of relativity is based on the strong equivalence principle: All objects in the same gravitational field should fall at the same rate. In space, two objects orbiting a third one at the same distance should have the same acceleration.

Anne Archibald and colleagues have performed a test using observations of three stars about 4200 light years away. The stellar system consists of a pulsar and a white dwarf star orbiting one another in a tight binary that orbits a more distant white dwarf.

The pulsar is both more massive and more compact than the white dwarf in the binary, so its gravitational field is about 104 times stronger. Yet they are accelerating in orbit around the distant dwarf at the same rate up to less than 1 part in 107.

AR The principle is a must for quantum gravity.

Airbus Beluga

Airbus Beluga

"Der Rücktritt von
Horst Seehofer ist für
uns unausweichlich"

SPD-AG Migration


The Times
The Times


2018 July 4

Crisis in Berlin

Alexander Neubacher

German interior minister and CSU head Horst Seehofer set a new low for German party leaders. European refugee policy will now focus on sealing off the continent from migrants and deterring them from coming. Discord between the CDU and CSU helps only the populists.

The Specter of Migration

Madeleine Schwartz

A specter is haunting Europe: migration. It threatens the German government and the EU. German minister for the interior Horst Seehofer announced a plan to turn away refugees at the border.

Since 2015, fear of immigrants has shaped German politics. Already 1 in 5 Germans comes from an immigrant background. But Germany needs about 400,000 newcomers a year to fill current jobs.

AfD successes have prompted the traditional conservative parties to march to the right. CSU members have put Christian crosses in state buildings and railed against Islam. But most Germans still favor the existing immigration policies over those of Seehofer.

At the EU summit last week, other Europeans took a stand against immigration. The policy that emerged is vague and contradictory but clearly anti-immigrant. Among other things, it commits to establishing processing centers for housing migrants outside the EU.

The CDU and CSU have reached a compromise: closed refugee camps, quicker deportations, and a new border regime on the frontier with Austria.

Chancellor Angela Merkel praised the deal. It is not settled but it suggests the end of an open Europe. People will die because of them.

AR The plan resembles present UK policy.

2018 July 3

Trump Warns Germany

The New York Times

President Trump has warned the leaders of several NATO allies that they spend too little on their own defense and the United States is losing patience:

"Continued German underspending on defense undermines the security of the alliance and provides validation for other allies that also do not plan to meet their military spending commitments .. It will .. become increasingly difficult to justify to American citizens why some countries do not share NATO's collective security burden while American soldiers continue to sacrifice their lives overseas or come home gravely wounded."

Mattis Warns UK

The Times

US defense secretary James Mattis wrote to UK defense secretary Gavin Williamson before the NATO summit next week:

"I am concerned that your ability to continue to provide this critical military foundation for diplomatic success is at risk of erosion .. A global nation like the UK, with interests and commitments around the world, will require a level of defense spending beyond what we would expect from allies with only regional interests .. As global actors, France and the US have concluded that now is the time to significantly increase our investment in defense."

Britain meets the NATO target of spending 2% of GDP on defense. But the US spends more on defense than the other 28 members of NATO put together. The UK defense select committee wants spending to reach 3% of GDP.

World Wide Web

Katrina Brooker

Tim Berners-Lee: "For people who want to make sure the Web serves humanity, we have to concern ourselves with what people are building on top of it."

Berners-Lee came up with the idea that became the World Wide Web. He released the source code for free to make the Web an open and democratic platform for all. From the beginning, he understood that the Web needed to be unfettered by patents, fees, royalties, or any other controls in order to thrive. He understood how the power of the Web would radically transform governments, businesses, and societies.

Sir Tim, now 63, is fighting to reclaim the Web from corporations and return it to its democratic roots. We collectively gave it away with every signed user agreement and intimate moment shared with technology. Facebook, Google, and Amazon, along with a handful of powerful government agencies, are able to monitor, manipulate, and spy in once unimaginable ways.

Last fall, the World Wide Web Foundation funded research to examine how Facebook algorithms control the news and information users receive. By understanding these dangers, Sir Tim hopes, we can collectively stop being deceived by the machine as billions more connect to the Web. But reclaiming the Web is going to be a lot harder than inventing it was in the first place.

Lawmakers do not always choose to protect individual rights. In December, lobbyists for telecom companies pushed the Federal Communications Commission to roll back net neutrality rules. In January, the US Senate voted to advance a bill that would allow the NSA to continue its mass online surveillance program. Google lobbyists are now working to modify rules on how companies can gather and store biometric data.

Berners-Lee: "While the problems facing the web are complex and large, I think we should see them as bugs: problems with existing code and software systems that have been created by people — and can be fixed by people."

AR Tim told me at WWW 2004 he thought business would help develop the semantic web. I told him I feared business ambitions and achievements on the web were likely to be less impressive.

2018 July 2

AfD Going Nowhere

Jasper von Altenbockum

The Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) sees no problem with the upswing the CSU expects from a tough new asylum policy. It is still riding high on a trend no party can oppose. Even the Greens have hardened up on immigration.

This does nothing to make the AfD more acceptable. The Augsburg congress revealed a party absorbed with itself and frighteningly out of touch with reality, as shown in an unhinged speech by AfD Bundestag leader Alexander Gauland.

The AfD revolting against block parties and dictatorship? The chancellor in the footsteps of Adolf Hitler, because she has raised a similar enemy constellation against her as he did? The Federal Republic a system that must be swept away? This is political suicide.

It is hard to believe reasonable voters could fall for such nonsense.

2018 July 1

It Could Not Happen

Roger Cohen

The German government of Chancellor Angela Merkel falls.
The xenophobic AfD enters a new nationalist governing coalition.
EU leaders establish detention centers for all migrants.
Riots erupt in these concentration camps.
The Italian coast guard ignores calls for help from ships filled with migrants.
Germany, Italy, and other EU states reintroduce border and passport controls.
President Trump declares that NATO is not an alliance but a cost center.
Trump denounces the French defense of a united Europe as weak.
Trump withdraws from NATO exercises, calling them a provocation to Russia.
John Bolton says Trump aims to destroy the WTO, NATO, and the EU.
President Putin sends the Russian army into Estonia, a NATO member.
Trump dismisses images of Russian troops crossing the border as fake news.
NATO members fail to invoke Article 5.
NATO disbands.
Britain leaves the EU.
Germany says it will give up the euro and readopt the D-mark.
The EZ collapses.
The EU disbands.
Germany announces a strategic alliance with Russia.
Trump begins mass deportation of illegal immigrants.

It could not happen.


New Scientist

Einstein showed that space and time are part of a unified spacetime that is warped by mass and motion so that no two observers can ever fully agree on what happened when. We don't see the discrepancies because we live our whole lives in roughly the same gravitational field and at roughly the same low speeds.

Carlo Rovelli: "In our experience, time passes at the same rate. But this is only true in the non-relativistic approximation in which we live."

In our experience, we are carried in the present along a stream of time from past to future. But in quantum theory things work just as well backwards as forwards. And relativity suggests that reality is a static 4D block of spacetime in which all time exists at once. We explain the flow of time by appeal to the rise of entropy.

Rovelli: "We can use our approximate notion of time in everyday life and it is fine, just like we can think that Earth is flat in everyday life."

AR I'm working on it.

AR 2018-06-30

My garden today

Type 26 frigate
Australia orders nine
Type 26 frigates from BAE

Battle for Europe

Kripke on naming
and necessity

Nietzsche on God
and morality

Dark Mofo
Sunny days here in Poole

British Challenger tanks
training in Germany

AR Wrong kit,
wrong war

Koch, Chalmers, Snaprud
Lena Forssen
Per Snaprud talks about
Chalmers and Koch


2018 June 30

American Tragedy

The Times

European Council president Donald Tusk and US president Donald Trump talked in private at the G7 summit in Quebec, and Trump told Tusk that the WTO, NATO, and the EU are the worst of deals and bad for America.

Tusk: "He has a method and is serious in his mission against an international rules-based order. He is on a mission against what we stand for."

The Washington Post reported that Pentagon officials have been ordered to calculate the costs of a large-scale withdrawal of US troops from Germany.

At a NATO summit in July 11 in Brussels, Trump is expected to question the future of the alliance by linking his anger at European trade surpluses to concerns about defense spending.

Trump: "Germany has to spend more money. Spain, France, it's unfair what they've done to the United States."

German Tragedy

Wolf Biermann

The reunification of Germany was accepted quickly by the Americans, chaotically by the Russians, skeptically by the French, and reluctantly by the British. In the former East Germany, the growth of Western prosperity also brought a new fear of social decline.

In 2015, when Angela Merkel decided to open German borders to war refugees, the situation was tragic. The chancellor had to choose between whether to make this mistake or that one. In a catastrophe of this kind, every choice is wrong.

I support our chancellor completely, because she proved herself to be an energetic humanist, because she has acted as a true Christian and has remained a stoic European. That wonderful mistake she made three years ago brought her a wave of sympathy from around the world.

Global conflicts have always brought great dangers. But the greatest danger is our lack of courage.

British Tragedy

The Guardian

UK prime minister Theresa May promises to publish a white paper on her vision for the future UK trading relationship with the EU.

European council president Donald Tusk: "This is the last call to lay the cards on the table."

French president Emmanuel Macron: "I cannot speculate as to the possibility of an agreement. I would like an agreement now but it is not in our hands .. Brexit can only happen in compliance with our values."

German chancellor Angela Merkel: "We are waiting for the white paper because time is of the essence now."

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar: "There really isn't any point in putting forward something that wouldn't possibly form the basis of negotiations, and that would be anything that would engage in cherrypicking, would have one of the four freedoms but not all four. Trying to have some of the benefits but not the responsibility and costs. If it is still in that space it isn't going to be the basis of a negotiation .. We are not going to let them destroy the European Union."

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier: "I hope it will contain workable and realistic proposals, but let me mention once again that the time is very short."

2018 June 29

Europe: Common Front

The Guardian

European Council president Donald Tusk says EU leaders have reached an agreement on migration. French president Emmanuel Macron said European cooperation had won the day. German chancellor Angela Merkel said there was still a lot of work to do. Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte was satisfied.

The Battle for Europe

Guy Verhofstadt

The postwar liberal world order risks being torn up before our eyes. Confronted with Donald Trump and his stupidities, plus Russia and China waiting their turn at the top table, the people of Europe have some fundamental decisions to make.

Do we want to inhabit a continent founded on democracy, the rule of law and a humane approach to migration, or do we let the populists promote fear over hope and division over unity?

Migration is the primary issue EU leaders are tackling at their summit this week. European asylum policies have failed. Populists have increased fears and misconceptions and seemingly put a humane and coherent European solution out of reach. Nationalists offer no credible solutions and will fail. We must find a common approach.

Another challenge facing Europe is the growing split between liberal democratic leaders and the "mini Trumps" of central and eastern Europe. EU leaders have spoken of the need to confront this crisis, but the UK has kept silent. Seeking to split Europe for the purposes of Brexit, the British government is assisting the decline of the democratic institutions it helped to build.

The geopolitical consequences of Brexit can no longer be ignored. Trump will continue to tear up the liberal world order and his next target will be NATO.

We all have a duty to fight for Europe in the existential battle to come.

The Battle of Brexit

Conservative Home

War Cabinet, May 1940: Lord Halifax was pressing for mediation by Mussolini between Britain and Germany with a view to a negotiated peace. Churchill: "I am convinced that every one of you would rise up and tear me down from my place if I were for one moment to contemplate parley or surrender. If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground."

A cynic says Theresa May wants to surrender. This may illustrate the perils of applying metaphors from the struggle against Hitler to a negotiation with the EU. But in one respect the comparison is bang on. If Brexit is to done, it must be done properly.

The route to achieving free trade deals with non-EU countries is via the backstop agreement on the Irish border. This would commit the UK to full alignment with the rules of the internal market and the customs union that support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy, and the 1998 agreement. Unpicking the backstop means agreeing an alternative with the EU. The White Paper is now on its ninth iteration and still undecided between customs partnership and "Max Fac".

Liam Fox is opposed to the customs partnership and loyal to May.
Michael Gove is sensitive to any question of future ECJ jurisdiction.
Boris Johnson is unhappy with any suggestion of alignment on goods.
David Davis will not to be bounced by anything not seen in advance.

AR May might try choking each of them in his own blood.

2018 June 28

America vs China


Chinese president Xi Jinping: "Our stance is steadfast and clear-cut when it comes to China's sovereignty and territorial integrity .. Any inch of territory passed down from ancestors cannot be lost while we want nothing from others."

US defense secretary James Mattis said he hoped to establish a transparent strategic dialog with his Chinese interlocutors: "I want to go in and do a lot of listening. I will be very clear about what we see developing, but that's the whole reason I am making the trip instead of just sitting in Washington reading news reports, intelligence reports or analyst reports."

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang: "The key part is solving the issues between the US and China with mutual respect. We have always believed that the bilateral relationship can benefit both countries and both peoples."

Evolutionary Graphs

John Rennie

In an evolutionary graph, an organism occupies each vertex. Each individual has some probability of spawning an offspring, which can occupy a neighboring vertex and possibly be replaced. The probabilities are represented as weights on directed lines between the vertices.

Certain population structures can suppress or enhance the effects of natural selection. In some structures, mutations have no chance to take over the population. In others, fitter mutations spread and the effects of natural selection are amplified.

Some population structures are evolutionary dead ends. Others may not enhance natural selection until the weights are adjusted to amplify fitter mutations. The population models in the present studies apply only to asexual organisms.

2018 June 27

Dark Days

Tony Blair

The transatlantic alliance is the bedrock of our values and our way of life. Yet this alliance in danger of fracture. We need leaders who can explain its importance and seek ways of strengthening it.

Globalization and its advocates are on the back foot. Populists of left and right meet at a certain point in denunciation of free trade arrangements, migration, and international alliances. All are portrayed as contrary to putting individual national interest first.

Populism offers only expressions of anger and not effective answers. The populists may say failure is due to weakness and that only more push will work. We know where that can take us.

America needs Europe united and standing with it, not isolated as individual nations, to be picked off one by one by new powers. In the UK, we have a government whose every move is a calculation not about the interests of the nation but the balance of advantage between party factions.

We cannot go on like this.

Brexit Quotes


UK prime minister Theresa May sought to patch up relations with business: "A Conservative government will always listen to your voice and back you every step of the way as you help grow our economy and create more good jobs."

UK business secretary Greg Clark: "My approach is to be very engaged with businesses .. In my experience the business voice puts evidence first before ideology, brings actual experience of trading whether with Europe or the rest of the world .. So the business voice seems to me to be the foundation to a successful effective negotiation."

The TUC and the CBI released a joint statement with their continental counterparts: "We are calling on the UK government and the EU to inject pace and urgency in the negotiations, bringing about measurable progress .. The cost of disagreement between the UK and the EU would be dire for firms, workers and the communities where they live."

Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell says the EU will block the UK government plan to protect British industry by keeping the UK in a single market for goods without respecting the free movement of people after Brexit: "I don't think France or Germany will accept that. They are quite angry with the United Kingdom because of all this mess .. When we should be discussing eurozone and immigration, we are discussing what to do with someone who wants to leave."

Borrell: "Brexit is not a political problem but it is a pain in the ass."

2018 June 26

Brexiteers vs Business

Rachel Sylvester

Airbus is preparing to abandon production in the UK because of Brexit. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders warns of the dangers of a hard Brexit. The five top business lobby groups warn that large companies are queuing up to shift operations out of Britain.

Former Downing Street director of communications Sir Craig Oliver tweeted that Conservatives saying "fuck business' is like Labour saying "fuck the NHS' or Greens saying "fuck the environment".

A critic says of government business secretary Greg Clark: "I'm sick and tired of his cowardice. He's supposed to be the one standing up for British business but he hasn't got the balls to do his job."

A senior figure in the City: "There's a sense that it's a bunch of amateurs in charge, that the government is run by teenagers obsessed with their own narcissistic ambitions who have no capacity to understand the world as it is rather than how they imagine it to be."

The Tories have already lost the confidence of young voters, ethnic minorities, and quite a lot of women. Can they really afford to sacrifice the backing of business too?

AR British parliamentarians are not always the best and the brightest. The prospect of Parliament becoming absolutely sovereign after Brexit is frankly terrifying.

UK Defence

David Shariatmadari

The House of Commons defence committee calls for the government to increase defence spending, currently at around £40 billion per year. Defence secretary Gavin Williamson is demanding an extra £20 billion, equivalent to twice the government's entire budget for STEM.

The clamour for cash is not really about keeping us safe in our beds. More cash could give the UK more authority at the next NATO summit. Former chief of the defence staff Nick Houghton says spending on the armed forces "projects this powerful nation".

AR Cut defence and spend on STEM.

Quantum Coherence

Philip Ball

The question of how the rules of quantum mechanics turn into the apparently quite different rules of classical mechanics is puzzling. Modern techniques let us create quantum superpositions of relatively big objects and probe their properties.

Simon Gröblacher and his colleagues made two microbeams of silicon, each 10 μm long, with holes to absorb and trap infrared laser light sent in a superposition of paths, one to each beam, entangling two beams into a single vibrational state.

Mika Sillanpää and colleagues coupled two microscopic metal sheets with a superconducting wire carrying an electrical current oscillating at about 5 GHz, creating an EM field that forced the two sheets into an entangled state.

Decoherence generally transforms large objects from ones governed by quantum rules into ones that obey classical physics. Any interaction between two quantum objects entangles them, so to observe a superposition, you need to deduce the quantum behavior of all the entangled particles. This rapidly becomes impossible, much as it becomes impossible to trace all the atoms in a blob of ink as it disperses in a swimming pool.

Experiments can control the rate of decoherence: quantum effects gradually vanish as decoherence proceeds. Size plays a role because the bigger an object is, the more easily it can entangle with its environment and decohere.

We can ask how far quantum effects are sustained as we add atoms. Three teams explored this question, achieving quantum states for clouds of up to tens of thousands of ultracold atoms by entangling them in a Bose−Einstein condensate (BEC).

In a BEC, all the particles are in the same quantum state and act like one big quantum object. Such condensation happens at very low temperatures, such as a few nK, and shows quantum behavior at a relatively huge scale. But the concept of entanglement between indistinguishable bosons is theoretically disputed.

Entanglement between spatially separated particles has been demonstrated in three experiments using clouds of hundreds to thousands of rubidium atoms held in EM trapping fields. The researchers used infrared lasers to excite quantum transitions in the atomic spins and looked for the correlations between spin values that reveal entanglement.

If quantum clouds are big enough to show the influence of gravity, they might offer hints for a theory of quantum gravity.

2018 June 25

Britain's Conservative Crisis

Nick Timothy

Conservatives disagree with liberals about what comes first: order or liberty. Libertarianism is alien to the conservative tradition and has done enormous damage to conservatism. Order is a necessary condition for liberty.

Theresa May will no doubt regard this as academic. Brexit remains her biggest challenge. Many conservatives worry about Brexit and see it as like the French Revolution. Others see it as like the American Revolution.

The Conservative crisis is caused not only by Brexit but also by a lack of agreement about the party's purpose. Labour governments fall when they run out of money. Tory governments fall when they run out of purpose.

Britain is heading toward a "bar bell" economy, with lots of wealth concentrated at one end, lots of low-paid workers at the other end, and not much in between. Across Britain, local institutions are decaying and dying.

Theresa May was quick to identify the need for change but has been unable to deliver it. Conservatives must deliver change. Conservatism is about our obligations to one another as members of the same community.

AR Timothy is seeking redemption after the 2017 election surprise.

UK Defence

Max Hastings

UK defence secretary Gavin Williamson is said to be threatening the prime minister with a mutiny unless his department is given £20 billion.

Countering terrorism is the only peril the public really cares about. Electronic surveillance through GCHQ, supported by intelligence, police and special forces, deserves generous funding. It is much harder to identify the right tools for all the rest.

Royal Navy admirals fought for their two preposterous carriers. Their F-35 aircraft are unaffordable and perform poorly in ground attack. Almost the entire navy will be required to escort the carriers on active service.

A strong government would mothball the carriers and scrap the Trident deterrent replacement. I see no respectable case for trying to sustain a nuclear capability on the Trident scale.

AR I too see no good case for Trident.

Neural Correlates of Consciousness

Per Snaprud

Twenty years ago this week, two young men sat in a bar in Bremen, Germany. Christof Koch and David Chalmers had spent the day lecturing at a conference about consciousness. Koch bet a case of fine wine that within the next 25 years someone would discover a specific signature of consciousness in the brain. Chalmers bet against.

The Bremen conference was on the neural correlates of consciousness. Koch argued that gamma waves might be involved, based on research linking awareness to rhythmic firing of neurons at frequencies around 40 Hz.

Last year, I met up with Chalmers at a consciousness conference in Budapest, Hungary. I asked him how his bet with Koch was shaping up. He told me neither of them could remember the exact terms. I emailed a recording to Chalmers, who forwarded it to Koch.

Modern ideas of consciousness work with networks of neurons. The integrated information theory (IIT) of Giulio Tononi says the amount of consciousness, Φ, in a system can be measured. Roughly, Φ is high in a system of specialized modules that interact rapidly and effectively. Koch likes IIT.

Chalmers: I'm thinking that with your current advocacy of IIT, this bet is looking pretty good for me.
Koch: The latest best estimate for the NCC is a hot zone in the posterior cortex.
Chalmers: I'm thinking that Φ is a network property of a group of neurons.
Koch: Well, that we simply don't know, Dave. This is what our institute does, and we just got
    $120 million to do more of it.
Chalmers: You need to actually discover this by 2023 for the purposes of this bet. And that's looking
Koch: A lot can happen in five years!

AR I too was at the Bremen conference, ASSC 2. I got to know Chalmers and Koch in the following years. After talking with Tononi at ASSC XIII in Berlin in 2009, I reluctantly decided that IIT was probably in the right ballpark.

Bournemouth beach

Bournemouth beach, Midsummer Day 2018

Bournemouth, 2018-06-24
England fans celebrate
6-1 win over Panama
in Bournemouth

London, 2018-06-23

Trust The People

"Nothing would hurt our
democracy more than to
give the people the choice,
and then not to trust their
judgement when
they give it."
Theresa May

AR Except not to trust
them to choose again.

London, 2018-06-23
Two years on: London


2018 Midsummer Day

Prophecy of Doom

Justin Gillis

June 23, 1988, was a hot day in day in Washington, DC. James E. Hansen took his seat in a Capitol Hill hearing room and laid out the scientific facts as best he understood them: "It is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here."

Hansen offered low, medium and high scenarios. The warming over the past 30 years has fallen well within his upper and lower bounds. His warning was on target. The planet has warmed relentlessly, and 1988 is not even in the top 20 warmest years now. Every year of this century has been hotter.

The ocean is rising, as he predicted, and the pace seems to be accelerating. The great ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are dumping ever-rising volumes of water into the sea. Coastal flooding is increasing rapidly in the United States. The Arctic Ocean ice cap has shrunk drastically.

Dr Hansen retired from NASA in 2013. He recently shared half of a $1.3 million prize for warning the public about the risks of climate change. Hansen: "It's very hard to see us fixing the climate until we fix our democracy."

Germany's Conservative Meltdown

Der Spiegel

Angela Merkel became secretary-general of the CDU in 1999. Now many conservatives no longer recognize their old party. Discomfort has grown within its Bavarian sister party, the CSU.

Since 2015, when almost a million people arrived in Germany as a result of Merkel's liberal refugee policies, this discomfort has grown into open rejection. The CSU has had enough.

CSU leader Horst Seehofer aims to defy Merkel. He calls for people to be turned back from the German border if they have already applied for asylum or been registered as a refugee in another EU member state. Merkel says there must be a European solution.

Last Monday, Merkel and Seehofer held press conferences to threaten each other. They then called meetings of their party leadership committees to secure their own support. Bundestag president Wolfgang Schäuble met with Seehofer and said the CDU and CSU must stay together.

Seehofer's Interior Ministry and Merkel's Chancellery are preparing for battle. Seehofer is preparing a press conference with the heads of the federal criminal police office, the domestic intelligence agency, and the federal police force. The Chancellery is preparing for zero hour.

Seehofer says he alone is authorized to issued orders to the federal police. He must ensure law and order. Legal opinions are being prepared on who is authorized to issue orders to the federal police. If Seehofer defies the will of the chancellor, she will have to fire him.

Merkel is still convinced she did the right thing in 2015 but is silent on why she is only now hastily trying to shape a European response to the migrant crisis. The other EU leaders see her panic and appear to be gauging the price she will be willing to pay for any concessions.

Merkel's backers are considering how to keep her in office and making public statements of support. CDU deputy chair Ursula von der Leyen: "We can't allow ourselves to overreach and replace the common European idea with a national club of egoists."

Merkel might resign after dismissing Seehofer. Snap elections would likely follow. Officials identified early September as the earliest possible date for a new election.

2018 June 23

Franco−German Europe

The Times

The Meseberg Declaration by German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron after their meeting at Schloss Meseberg included aspirations to a federal Europe:

End national vetoes over common foreign policy
Create an EU security council
Harmonize asylum practices in the member states
Turn EU agency Frontex into a European border police
Create a single budget for EZ members by 2021

FAZ editor Holger Steltzner: "Angela Merkel .. decided to open the borders for more than one million migrants without consulting her EU partners .. An immediate consequence was the Brexit vote because the images of uncontrolled influx were the famous straws that broke the British back."

The Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia opposed the law mandating the distribution of migrants to every member country in the common asylum area. Hungary and Poland simply ignored the legislation and took no refugees. The Czech Republic took in 12 and Slovakia 16.

Meseberg Declaration: "France and Germany are strongly committed to not only preserve the achievements of the European Union but also to further strengthen their cooperation within the European Union."

AR Fortress Europe = OK

My Take: "Fuck EU"

Austin Mitchell

I believe the nation state is only way of advancing the cause of the people while maintaining their democratic control of the process. Europe is a plutocracy with a rootless bureaucracy. As a concept it is a nonsense, a mirage.

The EU never broke away from its original purpose of protecting French agriculture and boosting German industry. With these two states dominating, Europe embarked on a journey to ever closer union.

In my successful campaign in the 1979 general election, I stood on a soapbox to denounce Brussels. My views remained unchanged as the Common Market marched on to the European Union.

The battle of Brexit was a thrill for me. I had been an MP for nigh on 40 years and had stood down from parliament by then. Victory was a strange new phenomenon.

AR Fuck U2, old man.

BoJo: "Fuck Business"

The Telegraph

EU diplomats have claimed that during a Foreign Office reception to celebrate the Queen's birthday last week, UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson was asked about the fears of some business leaders over Brexit and replied: "Fuck business."

AR Fuck BoJo.


Henry Nicholls/Reuters
Two years on: EU supporters march in London

Sir Robert Syms MP launches
WasteShark, an Anglo-Dutch
drone to eat plastic flotsam

Masterplan Migration
"Ich habe die Europäische
Union wachgeküsst."

Horst Seehofer

Carina Curto
Carina Curto

Merkel, Seehofer
Angela Merkel (CDU) and
Horst Seehofer (CSU) launch
"a new dynamic for Germany"


Gravitational Waves

Daniel Cossins

The detection by the LIGO collaboration of gravitational waves was a stunning endorsement of general relativity. LIGO consists of two L-shaped detectors. Each uses mirrors to bounce synchronised laser beams up and down arms 4 km long. When a gravitational wave passes through, the arm lengths vary and the beams shift measurably out of sync.

The LIGO collaboration can spot a gravitational wave from across the universe and decode the information these distortions carry. The LIGO detectors are receiving upgrades to improve their sensitivity and a third detector will join them. When the next run starts later this year, we should be picking up gravitational waves at least once a week.

General relativity is incompatible with quantum theory. In general relativity, the event horizon of a black hole represents the surface beyond which nothing can escape its pull. But quantum mechanics suggests there should be a firewall, a sphere of high energy particles incinerating anything that passes.

Soon after LIGO's first detection in 2015, two independent teams proposed that a firewall would reflect gravitational waves from colliding black holes. Niayesh Afshordi: "As long as there is something there, you should get echoes. The question is, how long after the merger to expect them."

In 2016, Afshordi's team came up with a simple model for what could be at the horizon and figured out how far apart the resulting echoes would be. They looked at public LIGO data and found the black hole mergers they checked were followed by echoes at precisely the intervals predicted.

The LIGO collaboration has made the hunt for black hole echoes one of its official goals.

AR Looks like a clue for quantum gravity. Sabine Hossfelder will be thrilled.

2018 June 22


Jean-Claude Juncker

As the clock to Brexit ticks down, we must prepare for every eventuality, including no deal. This is neither a desired nor a likely outcome. But it is not an impossible one.

We will use all the tools at our disposal, which could have a cushioning impact. We will also earmark €120 million for a new peace program, which has done so much in breaking down barriers between communities in Northern Ireland and the border counties.

Our backstop solution for Northern Ireland upholds its constitutional status. But this tailored solution for Northern Ireland cannot fit the whole United Kingdom.

Ireland's border is Europe's border, and it is our union's priority.


Financial Times

UK treasury secretary Philip Hammond promises to fight for the City of London in Brussels. He says the EU has made no credible proposals for post-Brexit regulation of financial services and demands a deal that allows for divergence of rules while maintaining market access. Proposals to build a system of enhanced equivalence reflect an ambition to relocate business into the EU.

Bank of England governor Mark Carney says he believes it is both feasible and desirable to base the future financial services relationship with the EU on commitments to achieving equivalent outcomes. He says global cooperation in regulation is essential. If the UK maintains its current share of cross-border capital flows, the balance sheet of its financial sector could be 15 times GDP by 2030.

A modern financial services sector with thriving fintech companies could save £600 million on cross-border payments with new payments technology.


The Times

Airbus employs 14,000 workers in the UK. Senior British Airbus executive Tom Williams:

"Our concern is the lack of certainty .. if by the end of next March, we are potentially going out with no deal, we have to continue running this business and manage the consequences .. We have a highly integrated international supply chain, components going back and forth across the English Channel, two or three times, before going to our production lines .. We are at maximum production levels and have the opportunity to go to even higher levels. But we have to assess that against the significant risk of disruption of components getting stuck in the docks of Dover or Calais and the general breakdown of logistical flow. The clock is ticking."

Airbus has alternatives to UK production in China and in Mobile, Alabama.

2018 Longest Day

Full Spectrum Dominance

The Times

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are preparing to meet during the US presidential visit to Europe next month. The prospect is adding to fears over the US commitment to NATO.

UK prime minister Theresa May denies claims that she questions Britain's place as a leading military power alongside the United States, a key element of the special relationship.

UK defense secretary Gavin Williamson must explain to May what it means for Britain to deploy "full spectrum" fighting capability. Full spectrum defense is achieved only by the UK and the other four permanent members of the UN security council.

AR Britain punches too far above its economic weight.

Nationalist Germany

Philip Stephens

German chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) is under pressure from her coalition partner. Her interior minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) wants tougher frontier controls. His pose is cheered by populists in Warsaw, Rome, Vienna, and Budapest.

No single government can take control of its frontiers. A humane and sustainable migration system requires a collective effort to harden EU external borders and accommodate those granted asylum.

A rising Germany First mood is not confined to migration. Germany is not under military threat and most Germans would probably spend less on defense. Berlin could make a deal with Moscow.

AR Trump would approve a Berlin-Moscow pact.

Modeling Brains

Carina Curto

I loved the math I learned in grad school. Physicists are proud of being able to derive things from first principles. I decided to apply my math and physics background to neuroscience.

After a few years, I started asking questions that were meaningful to neuroscientists. I'm trying to understand the relationship between a network's connectivity structure and its dynamics. I've been playing around with a combinatorial threshold linear networks model.

Proving something about your abstract model is not proof that you are right about the actual science. A mathematical model is a simplified model in the same way that a worm is a model organism. We can prove theorems in simple mathematical models and gain insight that gives us things to look for in the real brain.

We see certain periodic patterns of activity in real neural circuits and we ask what causes these rhythms of neural activity to emerge. A simple model can let one prove which features cause them. The mathematics gives a way of generating hypotheses.

AR The brain generates symphonies — the music of the hemispheres.

2018 June 20

US Quits UN Human Rights Council


US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley says the UN Human Rights Council is "a cesspool of political bias" and the United States will withdraw from it.

Fall of the American Empire

Paul Krugman

The US government is ripping children from the arms of their parents and putting them in cages.

We are witnessing a rejection of the values that made America great. Committing atrocities at the border, attacking the domestic rule of law, insulting democratic leaders while praising thugs, and breaking up trade agreements are all about ending American exceptionalism.

We are turning our back on the ideals that made America different.

Caging Kids?

The New York Times

President Trump has chosen to torment undocumented families. He may relent and let children be caged with their parents.

For the president, this vile border mess has become a test to see how hard he can squeeze lawmakers. They should not negotiate with him until he puts a stop to his "zero tolerance" insanity. If they let him roll them by using innocent children as hostages, he will learn the lesson that brutality is the key to getting what he wants.

The commander in chief believes that effective leadership is all about crushing anyone who stands in your way.

EU Preps For Hard Brexit

Financial Times

EU leaders will call on member states, businesses, and organisations to make contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit. UK prime minister Theresa May seeks to quash a rebellion by pro-European Conservative MPs who want a "meaningful" vote on the final deal.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier: "They want to maintain all the benefits of the current relationship, while leaving the EU regulatory, supervision and application framework. And they try to blame us for the consequences of their choice."

Brexit Delay?

The Independent

European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt told the Commons Brexit committee:

The UK proposals on customs and the Irish border are unacceptable.
The thrust of a future trade deal cannot be agreed by next March.
The UK cannot leave the EU yet stay within the EU arrest warrant.
The UK is welcome to stay in the customs union and single market.
The UK is free in the EU to tighten rules on immigration and benefits.
The EP needs to begin scrutinising any agreement this year.

AR Stop it.

2018 June 19

Space Force

Washington Post

President Trump will direct the Defense Department and the Pentagon to create a new Space Force as an independent sixth branch of the armed forces.

AR Reagan's Star Wars reborn?

American Enforcement


President Trump: "The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility."

Department of Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen: "We will not apologize for the job we do or for the job law enforcement does for doing the job that the American people expect us to do. Illegal actions have and must have consequences. No more free passes, no more get out of jail free cards."

Trump: "We don't want what is happening with immigration in Europe to happen with us!"

German Nightmare

Tony Barber

Brexit is bad news for Germany. But the disruption to transatlantic trade threatened by the G7 debacle is an immeasurably larger problem. The German nightmare is that the United States that rescued Germany after 1945 might be turning into its chief destroyer. No country has gained more than Germany from seven decades of the American world order.

Germans have been stunned by events in Washington since President Donald Trump took office. By comparison, Brexit is a sideshow. A German opinion poll shows 82% of Germans are concerned about the Trump presidency, 75% about crises in the Mideast, 71% about North Korea, 66% about European tensions with Russia, and only 39% about Brexit.

Germans will not yield in the Brexit negotiations: 65% want the EU to take a hard line against the UK. Business association DIHK: "Individual companies [say] Brexit must not jeopardise the stability of the internal market in the remaining 27 EU countries. They warn against affording the UK too many privileges in the course of the negotiations."

Brexit Farce

The Guardian

HM government's EU withdrawal bill has been defeated in the House of Lords by a bigger majority than last time. Lords voted 354 to 235 for an amendment drafted by Dominic Grieve to give MPs a "meaningful" vote on the final Brexit deal. The vote will lead to another Commons drama.

AR PM, please relent.

House of Lords

Lords vote again for Grieve amendment

Theresa May
Theresa May this morning

Quantum theory is still
baffling and difficult

Fortress Europe


Ariane 5
A majority of EU members
voted to push on with Galileo
and ignore British pleas for
inclusion despite Brexit.

AR Sad

Trump, Kim
China Daily



2018 June 18

Trade War

Paul Krugman

A serious trade war now looks very possible. It could mean tariffs in the 30−60% range. This would lead to a very large reduction in trade, maybe 70%.

The overall cost to the world economy may be a 2−3% reduction in world GDP. The disruption would mean some people gain and others take big hits.

2018 June 17

Global Criticality

Gregor Schöllgen

National identity is back. Populists like the Brexiteers in Britain, Front National in France, the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, Syriza in Greece, and Five-Star/Lega in Italy all reject the EU. Globalization led to mass immigration, and it has defeated the West.

AR If the EU supports Fortress Europe, all is forgiven. If not, the EU is toast.

Brexit Criticality

Andrew Adonis

Theresa May seeks to override parliament on Brexit. Her promise to Dominic Grieve to admit a "meaningful" parliamentary vote in the event of a "no deal" Brexit persuaded him to withdraw his amendment to the EU withdrawal bill. But then the legal text was replaced by a provision that in case of no deal the Commons would be allowed only a debate the government could ignore.

Her assertion of government sovereignty must be rejected by both the Lords and Commons. Her initial refusal to submit the EU withdrawal notice for parliamentary approval claimed the royal prerogative. It took the supreme court to force her into parliament. She then called an election and got a hung parliament, with no credible mandate to defy the Commons.

If there were no advance legal provision for what to do in the event of no deal, the Commons would be free to vote on whatever resolutions it thinks fit. May is seeking agreement to deprive the Commons of any meaningful vote in advance. David Davis asserts that it is wrong for the Commons to seek to "instruct" the government.

Grieve is proposing only that parliament should give instructions in the event that the government fails to negotiate any deal at all. This would be a national emergency, and parliament has a duty to say what should then happen. It is legal and appropriate in such circumstances for the Commons to give instructions and for the government to execute the will of parliament.

The fiction that Brexit is about parliament "taking back control" is in truth a power grab by the right wing of the Conservative party. Both houses of parliament need to support the Grieve amendment this week.

AR I say Parliament can only be trusted if EU institutions remain to act as legal backstop. Otherwise we have dictatorship of the Commons, with Lords and Crown neutered and UK law subject to parliamentary revision.

Cerebral Criticality

Jennifer Ouellette

The brain may be in a state of self-organized criticality, where its ordered complexity and thinking ability arise from the random electrical activity of neurons.

A critical neural network is balanced at a critical point. When a neuron fires, this can trigger an avalanche of firing by connected neurons. Smaller avalanches occur more frequently than larger ones, following a power law.

Criticality describes nuclear chain reactions. A nuclear fission event gives off two particles, and they each give off two more, and so on, yielding a branching ratio. A supercritical system explodes, a subcritical system fizzles out. In a critical system the branching ratio is exactly 1.

If the brain is critical, one neuron should, on average, activate one other neuron. Cortical spike recordings from animals show they have branching ratios of 0.98 or 0.99.

A quasicritical system operates in a region near its critical point. It can be defined by its sensitivity to an incoming stimulus. This depends in part on its spontaneous activity, which adds noise and dampens susceptibility. In a quasicritical network, an incoming signal can spread without being dampened or distorted by noise.

The brain needs a mechanism to stay close to criticality. Perhaps it responds to an excess of activity by activating mechanisms to inhibit the activity. Perhaps every neuron has a target firing rate, and it adjusts itself depending on the input strength.

Researchers are testing the quasicriticality hypothesis.

AR I recall discussing this phenomenon with researchers in Denmark in 1997.

2018 June 16

Fortress Europe

The Times

French president Emmanuel Macron and Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte have agreed on moves to stop economic migrants crossing the Mediterranean and to deport those who do.

Macron: "We want to create European centers outside Europe to handle asylum claims before migrants reach Europe."

Italy teamed up with Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz and German interior minister Horst Seehofer to form an "axis of the willing" to combat illegal migration.

German chancellor Angela Merkel rejects a plan put forward by Seehofer to turn back at German borders any asylum seeker already registered in another EU country. She says Germans should wait for a common EU policy.

AR Looks like a common Fortress Europe policy is coming soon.

Foundation Physics

Sabine Hossenfelder

I work in the foundations of physics. This covers cosmology, the foundations of quantum mechanics, high energy particle physics, and quantum gravity. There has been no great paradigm change since we established the Standard Model.

The theories we have now are not all there is. Perhaps the main reason we haven't made progress is that we're looking in the wrong places, guided by the wrong principles.

The history of the foundations of physics shows progress is made by looking at questions where there is a mathematical contradiction. There is an inconsistency and we resolve it.

If we are working with the wrong theories, we make the wrong extrapolations, we have the wrong expectations, we do the wrong experiments, and we get no new data. We have no guidance to develop these theories. We have to break the cycle.

There is a group of people who do frontier work that brings us forward. A lot of stuff is produced that seems to be produced just for the purpose of producing it. That's not good.

Much of what goes on in quantum gravity is detached from reality. I do research on the question of how to find out which approach describes nature. I ask how to find experimental evidence for the quantization of gravity.

We need science to solve problems on this planet that we have caused ourselves. For this we need a better understanding of how science works.

AR Quantum gravity is still a conceptual problem. A search for direct evidence is premature.

2018 June 15

Trump Foundation

The New York Times

Donald Trump's family foundation, the Trump Foundation, is just another of his grifts. The largest reported donation it has made was used to refurbish the fountain in front of Trump's Plaza Hotel in New York. He has not given any of his own supposed fortune to the foundation since 2008.

New York State attorney general Barbara Underwood: "The Trump Foundation was little more than a checkbook for payments from Mr Trump or his businesses to nonprofits, regardless of their purpose or legality."

Her lawsuit catalogs Trump's repeated violation of both state and federal laws by tapping the foundation's funds for his own personal purposes, including paying out legal settlements, making political contributions, and purchasing a portrait of himself to hang in one of his golf clubs.

Most of Trump's scams never really pretended to be in the public interest. But his foundation, like his presidency, does. And like everything else with the Trump name slapped on it, neither is remotely what it purports to be.

Brexit Amendment

Financial Times

Theresa May is facing a major confrontation with Conservative Remain rebels. They accuse her of reneging on an agreed form of words giving parliament new powers to oversee the final stages of Brexit and block a No Deal exit.

Conservative former attorney-general Dominic Grieve says an amendment May tabled is unacceptable. He accuses her of going back on a deal the rebels thought was agreed.

"If MPs in the prime minister's own party can't rely on her to keep her word, then how can our friends and allies in the EU trust any commitments she makes in the negotiations?"
Chuka Umunna

Cosmic Simulation

Natalie Wolchover

Scientists have begun to master the science and art of simulating a Big Bang universe. They are applying the laws of physics to a hot fluid and seeing the fluid evolve into spiral galaxies and galaxy clusters like those in the cosmos today. They are using their simulations as laboratories.

The BlueTides simulation focuses on galaxy formation during the first 600 My ABB. Supermassive black holes wound up at the centers of dark matter halos during that period and helped pull rotating skirts of visible gas and dust around themselves. Superbubbles form from the combined shockwaves of hundreds of supernovas exploding in quick succession.

Dark matter simulations find that halos of dark matter spontaneously form with the right sizes and shapes to cradle visible galaxies within them. In standard cold dark matter models, hundreds of satellite galaxies should orbit every spiral galaxy. The Milky Way has just dozens, but models with realistic superbubbles have fewer excess satellite galaxies.

A lingering doubt about dark matter concerns correlations in the visible parts of galaxies. The speeds at which stars circumnavigate the galaxy closely match the amount of visible matter enclosed by their orbits. With so much dark matter supposedly accelerating the stars this is unexpected, and modelers need to fine-tune the amounts of dark matter and visible matter in galaxies.

AR I think dark matter is fudge.

2018 June 14

Why Brexit Must Be Stopped

A.C. Grayling
Guest lecture at Bournemouth University

AR Professor Grayling is right: Brexit must be stopped. He sees the government plan falling apart, leading to the fall of the government and possibly another general election. Interesting times.

Trump America

Thomas L. Friedman

Donald Trump may deserve a Nobel Peace Prize for the denuclearization deal he just forged with North Korea. But it is way too soon to say. I would only nominate him for the Ignoble Prize.

Trump just picked a fight with our closest NATO allies. He has had no word of censure for Russian president Vladimir Putin. Our president is compromised on Russia and is rapidly alienating every ally with whom we confronted Nazism, Communism, and radical Islamism in the last 70 years.

Trump thinks climate change is a hoax. On North Korea, even if there was a tiny chance Kim Jong Un would launch a nuclear missile at us, Trump said we must buy insurance, even if it meant war. On climate change, Trump chose to scrap Paris, throw away any insurance, and revive coal.

If interest rates rise as expected, spending on interest on national debt, government health care programs, and Social Security will leave virtually nothing left to invest in improved bridges and roads, scientific research, new weapons systems, education programs, and housing.

If climate change is a hoax, it won't matter that the president doesn't believe in science. If we get years of high growth, and no recession, maybe America will pay off the debt Trump took on with his tax cuts. If health care costs fall, it won't matter that Trump destroyed Obamacare.

Nobel or Ignoble?

Hitler Germany

Cass R. Sunstein

We can learn from the Third Reich. It shows how people can stand by quietly and live fairly ordinary days in the midst of dreadful events. Most Germans did not know before or during the war that Nazism was evil.

Nazism made things better for most citizens because it improved their daily life. Germans had jobs and better housing, fewer people were hungry or cold, and the sick received treatment. The New Order seemed better.

Many citizens liked and admired Hitler. Many insisted that the only Jews taken to concentration camps were traitors to Germany. People had no time to think about the dreadful things growing, little by little, around them.

The true nature of Nazism was evident to some Germans from the start. Books and newspapers started to disappear. People who refused to become Nazis were subjected to insults and humiliations.

The Nazi movement grew rapidly among young people. The Nazis enforced an appearance of unanimous support. Many people recalled their happy times in the Hitler Youth, with hiking trips and summer camps.

Things got much worse for Germans when war broke out. After the war, defeat meant a new beginning and hope for a better future.

AR America is different.

2018 June 13

Korea Concession


President Donald Trump's announced stop to US military exercises with South Korea startled Tokyo and Seoul, unsettled US lawmakers, and took parts of the Pentagon by surprise.

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said US secretary of defense James Mattis "was not surprised" and was consulted, added "conversations have been robust," and said that Mattis "is in full alignment with the President to meet his goal" of denuclearizing Korea.

Center for Strategic and International Studies SVP for Asia and Japan chair Michael J. Green: "When the President of the United States announces unilaterally to the leader of North Korea that we are going to stop our military exercises with our allies, Japan and Korea, and does not first tell those allies .. and then goes on to say that someday he'd like to get our troops out of Asia, that's an astonishing development."

Brexit Concession

Financial Times

Conservative rebel MPs have forced Theresa May into a concession to prevent a "no deal" Brexit.

May averted defeat by promising the 15 or so rebels that she would table a new amendment to give MPs new powers over the final stages of Brexit. The rebels had threatened to back a Lords amendment to give MPs the power to reject her deal and to instruct her on how to improve it.

May's justice minister Phillip Lee resigned to campaign against Brexit.

2018 June 12

Historic Agreement


President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un conducted a comprehensive, in-depth and sincere exchange of opinions on the issues related to the establishment of new US-DPRK relations and the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula:

The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance
    with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.

The United States and DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace
    regime on the Korean Peninsula.

Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward
    complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the
    immediate repatriation of those already identified.

Trump Gushes Over North Korea

The New York Times

President Trump made major concessions. Kim Jong Un merely reaffirmed a goal of denuclearization that North Korea first announced in 1992. Trump announced he would provide North Korea with security guarantees and suspend joint military exercises with South Korea.

In past arms agreements, US governments have routinely insisted that international inspectors be able to rigorously verify compliance. The joint statement with North Korea lacked a demand that denuclearization not just be complete but also be verifiable and irreversible. It also contained no definition of denuclearization.

Trump expressed confidence that Kim would meet his commitments and insisted he had secured concessions from Kim. On denuclearization: "We're starting that process very quickly, very very quickly, absolutely."

Trump Got Nearly Nothing From Kim Jong Un

Uri Friedman

Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un signed a joint statement in which North Korea did not commit to the complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantling of its nuclear weapons program. Kim committed not to denuclearization but to the goal of denuclearization.

Trump made one concession after another. He said US sanctions on North Korea would "come off when we are sure that the nukes are no longer a factor," but then chipped away at that firm stance. In announcing that he would suspend US-SK joint military exercises as long as negotiations progress, he adopted the NK position that they are provocative war games.

Trump: "If I can save millions of lives by coming here, sitting down, and establishing a relationship with someone who's a very powerful man, who's got firm control of a country, and that country has very powerful nuclear weapons, it's my honor to do it. I'll do whatever it takes to make the world a safer place."

2018 June 11

The President is Missing

Bill Clinton, James Patterson

AR This thriller is both well conceived and well written, which I think is well worth celebrating. [more] Anyone ready for a satisfying reveal on how a real president sees a real problem, if only in his dreams, is warmly recommended to give the book a go.

Lost in Math

Djuna Lize Croon

Sabine Hossenfelder opposes common arguments that physicists make when formulating new theories. She favors more collaboration with philosophers.

"I think theoretical physicists in the foundations should focus on mathematical consistency and making contact to experiment rather than blathering about beauty."
Sabine Hossenfelder

LHC: Standard Model OK

New Scientist

The Large Hadron Collider confirms that the Higgs boson works as expected in the Standard Model. New results for particle processes in which the Higgs boson is produced along with both a top quark and a top antiquark and in which the Higgs boson decays directly into tau leptons are fully consistent with the Standard Model. The results meet the 5-sigma test.

We know the Standard Model is not a complete theory of matter. Discovering new supersymmetric particles would point to us a fuller theory. A top squark would be expected to influence interactions between top quarks and Higgs bosons. No sign yet.

LHC and Higgs

Red Arrows

Red Arrows over London

Merkel, Trump
Trump Rejects G7 Communiqué

Leave campaign bankroller
Arron Banks had multiple
meetings with Russian
embassy officials in
Brexit referendum


Market Valuations

Apple $940 billion
Amazon $820 billion
Alphabet (Google), Amazon,
Apple, Facebook, Netflix
together: almost $4 trillion

AR US stocks seem OK:
Where's the beef?

Trump, BoJo


2018 June 10

Emperor Donald

Niall Ferguson

To most highly educated people I know, Donald Trump is a terrible president. People with At Least Two University Degrees (Paltuds) gnash their teeth about him. They want a liberal world order.

The Trump presidency is probably the last chance America has to hold back China. Its assertion of US power in unpredictable and disruptive ways may be the only way left.

Think of the world as a three-empire system. The United States, China, and Europe are each evolving in a different direction. We see a transition from US republic to American empire: the plebs despise the elites, an old and noble senatorial order is dying, a cultural civil war rages, and the imperial president dominates public discourse.

The Chinese empire becomes ever more centralized, internally invasive, and externally expansive. The western world sees Xi Jinping as a mighty potentate. Few see the risks of his imperial ventures.

The weakest of the three empires is the EU. Europe lacks its own tech giants and its armed forces have melted away. Its political consensus is crumbling under a nationalist-populist assault.

The logic of Trumpism is to bully the other empires. The Chinese fear a trade war. The Europeans dare not defy Trump for fear of Russia.

AR As a Pasmafud, I say the triumvirate of Globall must learn to work together.

Europe and Russia

Edward Lucas

Europe was whole, free, and at peace. Then Germany opened its doors to mass migration. Other countries depicted EU enforcement of standards on issues such as migrant quotas, Roma integration, or LGBT rights as outside interference with the popular will.

Russia under Vladimir Putin began creating and seizing opportunities:

Hungary opposes migrant quotas: Prime minister Viktor Orban does murky deals with Russia.
Italy cannot manage its migrants. The new governing coalition wants sanctions lifted on Russia.
Czech Republic: President Milos Zeman supports the Kremlin agenda.
Slovakia: The government opposed sanctions on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.
Poland is playing into Russian hands: It has let its relations with Ukraine deteriorate.
Austria is embroiled in a scandal surrounding Russian links to the Austrian far right.

Populist parties win not because their leaders can solve national problems but because voters are fed up and the other parties are feeble. Suspicion, anger, and alienation have spread in Europe.

AR Can a new warlord impose order from the Atlantic to Siberia?

2018 June 9

The Cult of Trump

The New York Times

President Trump has transformed the Republican party from a political organization into a cult of personality. Through his demagogic command of the party base, he has emerged as the fulcrum around which the entire enterprise revolves. His favorability rating among Republicans is at 87%.

AR Amerikanisches Führerprinzip: Hail to the Chief (0:57)

US Trade Concerns

Peter Navarro

President Trump hears concern and disappointment from G7 finance ministers over US trade policies. America has a $500 billion annual global trade deficit in goods and services.

Germany ran a trade surplus with the United States in goods of about $64 billion in 2017. The US tariff on cars made in the EU is 2.5%, the EU tariff on US cars is 10%. Germany does not meet its financial commitment to NATO.

Japan ran a trade surplus with us of $70 billion in 2017. We import 100 times as many cars from Japan as vice versa. Japan slaps high tariffs on a wide range of our agricultural products.

Canada has for decades dumped its lumber into the United States. It disadvantages our beer and spirits exporters and it manipulates dairy prices to protect its dairy farmers.

President Trump wants trade to be not only free but also fair and reciprocal, and he reserves the right to defend industries critical to our national security.

AR Balance in each and every sector means national insecurity for all.

A Fifth What?

Walter Laqueur

A new Socialist International may in the offing. But earlier socialists would never have dreamed of supporting jihadist movements calling for the destruction of the Jewish state and its citizens. Populist movements now fall outside historical definitions of left and right.

The First International was where Karl Marx said only by the working class could emancipate the working class. The Second International was a union of social democratic parties. The Third International was a Soviet creation dissolved by Stalin. The Fourth International was a weak Trotskyite organization.

Radical movements in a number of European countries have certain features and aims in common. They are against the elite in their native countries and they propose major political reforms. Perhaps the Fifth International will oppose further immigration from Asia, Africa, and the Mideast.

If a new International emerges, its prospects are not brilliant. Nationalism has become much stronger than in the past decades and the prospects for united action seem minimal. A Fifth International will be stillborn.

AR Left and right are old hat. New is pops versus globs.

2018 June 8

G7 Gap

The New York Times

President Trump will skip most of the second day of the G7 summit meeting with allies this weekend. French president Emmanuel Macron and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau had criticized Trump for imposing tariffs on their steel and aluminum industries. Trump responded with his trademark Twitter bluntness, adding: "Look forward to seeing them tomorrow."

BoJo Attacks Treasury

The Times

UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson calls HM Treasury "the heart of Remain" and vows to "take the fight to the enemy" as the UK gets "much more combative with Brussels" — perhaps sending relations with the EU into meltdown.

Johnson says the Treasury want to avoid friction at the borders: "They don't want any disruption .. Project Fear is really working on them .. It's all mumbo jumbo .. In the short term it is probably true that there will be some dislocation .. some bumps on the road. But unless you go through that, you won't have any of the advantages."

Johnson: "Imagine Trump doing Brexit. He'd go in bloody hard .. There'd be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos. Everyone would think he'd gone mad. But actually you might get somewhere. It's a very, very good thought."

AR Sack BoJo.

Gale crater, Mars

NASA Curiosity rover finds complex organic molecules in Gale crater, Mars


"In the world of business
we're frustrated, we're angry.
Anyone who isn't preparing
contingency plans is off
their rocker."
Paul Drechsler, CBI

On Chesil Beach
AR Well crafted and
finely tuned story that
hits pure tones with
satisfying clarity

Deus Vult

Andy Ross
Selfie, today

Bella Italia


NASA Rover Finds Organics on Mars


Since 2012, the NASA Mars rover Curiosity has been sifting soil and rock for signs of organic molecules. A new study reports that samples taken from two different drill sites on an ancient lakebed have yielded complex organic macromolecules at levels of a few dozen parts per million.

Curiosity worked on a mudstone formed by sediments that settled to the bottom of a lake some 3 billion years ago. The rover drilled a few cm into the mudstone and delivered the grit to an oven, which baked it and fed the fumes to a mass spectrometer. A welter of closely related organic signals indicating aromatics and aliphatics looked like those generated on Earth by kerogen formed from compressed remains of early life forms.

In a separate study, Curiosity scientists say methane in the Mars atmosphere rises and falls with the seasons.

2018 June 7

Far Right in Berlin

The New York Times

When Richard Grenell arrived in Berlin as US ambassador to Germany, he tweeted that German companies doing business in Iran should "wind down operations immediately" because President Trump had withdrawn from the nuclear deal with Iran.

Breitbart: "Grenell has expressed great excitement over the wave of conservatism in Europe, saying he wants to 'empower' leaders of the movement."

Germans are not amused. Former European Parliament president Martin Schulz says Grenell is behaving not like a diplomat, but like a far-right colonial officer.

Grenell does not, and should not, represent the United States.

Fair Fight in Berlin

The Times

Angela Merkel was put on the defensive at the launch of Germany's version of prime minister's questions yesterday. The first open question to a chancellor in the Bundestag, posed by an AfD member, berated her for "importing Islamists .. rapists, murderers, knife-wielders, and terrorists" by welcoming a million migrants in 2015.

AR Who can doubt that the British Remain or Leave vote in 2016 referred to immigrants?

The Laws of Physics

Robbert Dijkgraaf

Quantum physicists have found many examples of two completely different descriptions of the same physical system. String theory is our best candidate theory to describe reality while obeying the rules of quantum mechanics and relativity. The good news is that string theory has no free parameters.

The bad news is that its solution space — the landscape — is vast and complex. In string theory, the laws of nature are determined by the shape and size of hidden extra dimensions. Visualize the landscape as a huge wilderness, mostly hidden under thick layers of complexity.

Quantum electrodynamics (QED) is on the cultivated edge of the landscape. QED has a single parameter, α, setting the strength of the force between two electrons, and sums up all possible ways they might exchange a photon. Each additional photon exchange adds a term that includes α raised to an additional power, but α is a small number, so terms with many exchanges can be neglected in an approximation.

QED is a weakly coupled theory. In such theories, we can talk about a shopping list of elementary particles and a recipe that computes their interactions. But if we travel more deeply into the wilderness, the couplings become large and each additional term in the expansion grows more important.

Sometimes the path through the wilderness ends at another model, with a completely different set of particles and forces. In such cases, there are two recipes for the same physics. These complementary descriptions are called dual models, and the relation between them a duality.

It seems that many, if not all, models are part of one huge interconnected space. Instead of exploring an archipelago of models, we have discovered one massive continent. This phenomenon is an intrinsic property of quantum physics.

All the familiar concepts of fundamental physics have to be thrown out. We need a radical new framework. This is where string theory leads us.

AR This philosopher had already hacked his way to this conclusion.

2018 June 6

Apocalyptic Times

René Pfister

German chancellor Angela Merkel is watching the global order collapse. She recalls the 1555 Peace of Augsburg, which initiated decades of peace. Then a war began in 1618 that lasted 30 years, leaving a depopulated Germany in ruins.

To Merkel, that period shows just how thin the varnish of civilization really is. After a lunch with Donald Trump in Washington she said: "The coming decades will show us whether we have learned from history."

After the financial crisis of 2008, Merkel hoped an international agreement would tame the capital markets. But it never happened. Now she sees the pillars of the world order teetering everywhere.

Donald Trump has turned back the clock to zero hour on everything that united the West for decades: NATO, trade agreements, and the UN. Merkel sees Trump implementing his campaign promises, no matter how asinine they were.

Russia under Vladimir Putin is on the path of brute force and repression. China under Xi Jinping shows how to reconcile a dictatorship with a market economy. Europe is quarreling, weakened by Brexit and paralyzed by indecision.

Merkel is surrounded by men who know what they want. She says Europe must now take its fate into its own hands. She feels everything needs to move much faster in Europe and in Germany.

2018 June 5

EU Rescue Plan

The Times

German chancellor Angela Merkel backs calls from French president Emmanuel Macron for deeper European economic and military ties. Struggles to save the euro through punishing austerity and to cope with a huge influx of asylum seekers have drained support for the EU and fueled nationalism. Macron and Merkel will present joint plans for EZ reform to EU leaders on June 28.

EU Exit Plan

Daily Mirror

UK prime minister Theresa May is accused of showing contempt for parliament by trying to railroad hard Brexit into law by asking MPs to vote on all 15 Lords defeats to her flagship EU Withdrawal Bill in a single marathon session on June 12.


Stephen T. Asma

We still need religion. We need not rescue religion as reasonable. Its irrationality may be the source of its power.

Neuroscientists say our minds are moved by ancient emotional systems. These forces are adaptive and help us survive if they are managed properly. Religion can provide direct access to this emotional life in ways that science does not.

Religion is a traditional form of emotional management. Feeling well is more important than thinking well for survival. Religious practice is a form of social interaction that can improve mental health.

Religion fails miserably at the bar of rational validity. But the older reptilian brain, built by natural selection for solving survival challenges, was not built for rationality. In many cases, emotions offer quicker ways to solve problems than deliberative cognition.

Those of us in the secular world who critique emotional responses and strategies are missing the point. Most religious beliefs are not true. But the criteria for measuring a healthy theory are not the criteria for measuring a healthy emotion.

Perhaps religion is an opiate administered indirectly by state power in order to secure a docile populace. But religion is energizing as often as anesthetizing. This animating quality of religion can make it more hazardous than tranquilizing to the state, as well as inspiring altruistic philanthropy.

If religion is therapeutic, some of that therapy is palliative pain management. Religion is a powerful cultural response to the universal emotional life that connects us all.

AR A good stub for a case, imho.

2018 June 4

Israel vs Iran

The Times

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu aims to persuade Europeans to follow the US lead and withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

Europeans hope to constrain Iran by sticking to the agreement and trading to help Iranians develop and take the sting out of conflict. Britain seeks to placate the Trump administration and Israel.

Israel says Iran has been weaponizing its atomic research since 2001. A stolen Iranian document shows the regime moved the research from the atomic energy authority to the defense ministry.

The 2015 accord was drawn up on incomplete information. When the deal expires in 2025, Iran will be ready to push for the bomb. The accord merely delays their acquisition of that capability.

AR Netanyahu is risking a Mideast war.

Brexit vs Britain

Will Hutton

Brits must address the poverty, inequalities, and hopelessness that propelled the Brexit vote.

Brexiteers want a Thatcherite world of free markets and minimal social provision. But their "have cake and eat it" fantasies have evaporated. There is no Brexit dividend.

The "quick and simple" trade deals outside the EU are illusions. The EU has the global trade deals, either done or in the making. The EU is a citadel of global free trade.

Europe stands for the nobler cause of representing European values, rooted in democracy. Brexit is a mistake. Never before has Europe been so peaceful and prosperous.

Britain is hurting, inflamed by fears of immigration. In too much of the UK beyond London and the SE, economic performance is mediocre or bad, the social contract gone.

Saving Britain means transforming its economy and society and recommitting to the EU.

AR Hutton speaks truth to power.

2018 June 3

G7 Condemns US

Financial Times

G7 host nation Canada chair's summary: "Concerns were expressed that the tariffs imposed by the United States on its friends and allies, on the grounds of national security, undermine open trade and confidence in the global economy."

AR To put it mildly.

Doomsday Brexit

The Sunday Times

UK officials in the Department for Exiting the EU and the departments of health and transport have drawn up three scenarios for a No Deal Brexit: mild, severe, and "Armageddon".

In the severe scenario, the port of Dover collapses on day one, supermarkets in Cornwall and Scotland run out of food within a few days, hospitals run out of medicines within two weeks, and officials charter aircraft or use the RAF to ferry supplies to remote parts of the UK.

AR All because a few voters once said "Fuck you!" to our EU neighbors.

Defenders of the Faith

Tobias Cremer

The populist right claims to be the last fortress of the Christian Occident against the onslaught of Islam and godless liberalism. But in Europe, the followers of far-right movements are actually disproportionately irreligious, and church attendance is a strong statistical predictor for voting against the populist radical right.

Historically, the two defining divides in Western democracies have been the economic one, between workers and capitalists, and the religious or cultural one between social conservatism and social liberalism. But over the last few years, concerns about immigration and cultural identity increasingly outrank economic or social issues.

A new divide across Western democracies pits a vision of clear national identities against globalist ideals and diversity. Like the identity politics of the left, the new white identity politics is primarily concerned with traits such as race, culture, sexuality, or gender. But it claims to defend the rights of the ethnic majority rather than of minorities.

Throughout Europe, immigrants from Muslim countries are seen as Muslims and as representing Islam. Given this religious definition of them, the other, Christianity must be the cultural identifier of us. Yet the new populists often marry religious language and symbols with predominantly secular policies.

The strategy of secular populist leaders to hijack religion is most successful among irreligious voters. Practising Christians remain comparatively immune to its appeal. In Germany, both Pegida and the AfD initially sought to appeal to conservative Christians, but the German churches came out strongly against them.

In Britain, neither UKIP nor the Leave campaign made significant efforts to turn Anglicanism into a part of their appeal. Anglicanism is often left-leaning in its leadership and educated and middle-class in its membership. UKIP and the Leave campaign appealed primarily to the increasingly irreligious working class.

The Christian churches could once again play a big role in Western politics. They could either ride the populist wave in the hope of increasing their political influence or reassert their authority by challenging populist rhetoric laden with religious references. They still enjoy substantial moral authority in Europe.

AR Did "Leave" work as a threat to Muslims and "Remain" as a surrender?

2018 June 2

US vs China

James Mattis

America is in the Indo-Pacific to stay. This is our priority theater.
We are prepared to support China's choices if they promote long-term peace and prosperity for all.
China's policy in the South China Sea calls into question China's broader goals.

Trump's Trade War

Jeffrey Sachs

Donald Trump is rapidly destroying American global leadership, alliances, and interests.

His trade actions are blatantly illegal. They are flimsily justified as an act of national security, but this is sheer nonsense. They are also fatuous in terms of US economic and geopolitical interests.

Trump creates chaos for no reason other than his own flagrant inability to follow rules or respect the interests of others. His is a psychopath's trade war. The result will be to undermine the dollar, ratchet up public debt, and undermine the current expansion.

Trump is a growing threat to the nation and the world.


Sigal Samuel

A new study about Christian identity revealed three things:

1 Americans are much more religious than Western Europeans. Religious commitment was gauged using such questions, as "Do you believe in God with absolute certainty?" and "Do you pray daily?"

2 American "nones" (those who identify as atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular) are more religious than European nones.

3 American nones are at least as religious as Christians in France, Germany, and the UK. Fewer than a quarter of European Christians say they believe in God with absolute certainty, but more than a quarter of American nones say this.

Most Western Europeans still identify as Christians. But for many of them, Christianity is a cultural or ethnic identity rather than a religious one.

A quarter of Americans are religiously unaffiliated. A quarter call themselves spiritual but not religious. Traditional measures of religiosity can no longer be trusted to identify religious people.

Ask what we talk about when we talk about religion.

2018 June 1

America Declares War On Allies

The New York Times

Apparently, the Trump administration must hit the European Union, Canada, and Mexico with steel and aluminum tariffs to stop Chinese manufacturers from flooding markets and to protect American workers. President Trump had initially exempted these allies from the tariffs. But commerce secretary Wilbur Ross said the talks were taking too long.

The administration says the new tariffs will keep China from avoiding existing tariffs by shipping its products through other countries. Yet they will more than likely prompt the allies to retaliate by imposing new tariffs on American products. The allies have no incentive to work with an administration that seems to care so little about them.

The president is making a hash of it.


Jean-Claude Juncker

I am in deep love with bella Italia, but I cannot accept that all its problems should be blamed on the EU or the European Commission.

Italians have to take care of the poor regions of Italy. That means more work, less corruption, seriousness. We will help them as we always did, but a country is a country, a nation is a nation.

Countries first, Europe second.


Alexander G. Hayes

NASA has discovered features interpreted as dunes the surface of Pluto.

Images from New Horizons have revealed a geologically diverse and dynamic world driven by internal heat, extreme seasons, and sublimating ices. Pluto is a realm where volatile ices (of nitrogen, methane, ammonia, and carbon dioxide) dominate the landscape.

The latest discovery from New Horizons is a collection of regularly spaced ridges on Pluto that seem to be transverse dunes of granular methane ice. The features are oriented orthogonal to dark wind streaks on Sputnik Planitia. What makes this discovery surprising is that the sediment can be mobilized despite Pluto's low atmospheric pressure, around 1 Pa.

Much work is left to do to understand dunes on Pluto.

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